The study builds on previous findings that chronic alcohol use can impair the body’s immune system and increase the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome after contracting Covid-19.
“Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of contracting Covid-19 by creating conditions in the body conducive to infection,” is the warning of German scientists who used a rodent model to study the effect of long-term alcohol exposure on enzymes involved in Covid infection. They found that chronic alcohol consumption increases levels of the ACE2 enzyme in the lungs, which the coronavirus uses to attach to and enter cells, and therefore may also increase the risk of contracting the virus upon exposure .
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In their study, pharmacologist Marion Friske at the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany, and her colleagues exposed laboratory rats to ethanol vapor in a scientific model of chronic drinking and alcohol dependence.
They then analyzed how alcohol exposure affects the organs commonly affected in Covid cases — the lungs, brain, heart, kidneys and liver.
Specifically, the team analyzed the effects on three enzymes commonly involved in SARS-CoV-2 infection.
These were: ACE2, the receptor to which Covid attaches itself as the first step to enter and infect a healthy cell; TMPRSS2, which activates the spike proteins of the virus; and Mas, which causes a protective and anti-inflammatory effect after the penetration of the virus into the cell.
The researchers found that after chronic alcohol exposure, ACE2 levels in the lungs of rats increased.
They warned that this could lead to an increased chance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus entering and infecting lung cells.
This finding may explain past epidemiological evidence that people with alcohol use disorders tend to have poorer health outcomes with Covid and more severe infections.
In addition, the team also noted that after a period of abstinence from alcohol exposure, the rats showed an increased anti-inflammatory response, suggesting that stopping excessive drinking may have a protective effect.