Heavy drinkers ‘are damaging their lungs’

1 July 2014

The immune system of alcoholics is not strong enough to protect the lungs from infection and damage and until now there has been a lack of research to explain why this is the case.

According to the new study from Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, heavy drinkers are often susceptible to lung diseases, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), because of a build-up of fat - a finding that offers the possibility of new treatments.

"We call it the alcoholic fatty lung," says lead researcher Dr Ross Summer. "The fat accumulation in the lungs mimics the process that causes fat to build up and destroy the liver of alcoholics," he added.

As a person drinks alcohol, liver cells produce to fat, possibly to defend against the toxicity of the liquid being ingested.

Frequent exposure causes the fat to accumulate, often leading to “fatty liver disease” in the heaviest of drinkers. This can impair the function of the organ, which can cause scarring, eventually leading to liver failure.

The lungs also produce fat to to keep airways properly lubricated - a process that has led the research team to believe extended exposure to alcohol could have a similar effect on the lungs.

Posted by Jeanette Royston

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