Why binge drinkers are slower to heal from their wounds

News Archive April 08, 2014

Why binge drinkers are slower to heal from their wounds

MAYWOOD, Ill. – People who are injured while binge drinking are much slower to heal from wounds suffered in car accidents, shootings, and fires.

Now a new study is providing insights into why alcohol has such a negative effect on wound healing. Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine researchers report that binge alcohol exposure significantly reduced levels of key components of the immune system involved in healing.

The study by senior author Katherine A. Radek, PhD, and colleagues from Loyola’s Alcohol Research Program and the Infectious Disease and Immunology Research Institute is published in the April 2014 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

In the United States, alcohol dependence and/or abuse affects 20 percent to 40 percent of hospitalized patients. Alcohol increases the risk of infections in the hospital, including surgical site infections. Patients with surgical-site infections are hospitalized for twice as long, have a higher rate of re-admission and are twice as likely to die as patients who did not binge drink.

The study showed, for the first time, that binge alcohol exposure reduces the amount of white blood cells called macrophages that chew up bacteria and debris. This defect, in part, makes the wound more likely to be infected by bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus.

The study also found that binge alcohol exposure impaired the production of a protein that recruits macrophages to the wound site. (This protein is called macrophage inflammatory protein-1 alpha, or MIP-1α.) Binge alcohol also reduced levels of another key component of the immune system known as CRAMP (cathelicidin-related antimicrobial peptide). CRAMP is a type of small protein present in the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis. These small proteins, called antimicrobial peptides, kill bacteria and recruit macrophages and other immune system cells to the wound site.

“Together, these effects likely contribute to delayed wound closure and enhanced infection severity observed in intoxicated patients,” the researchers concluded.

The study involved an in vivo model and a typical pattern of binge drinking: three days of alcohol exposure, followed by four days without alcohol, followed by three more days of binge alcohol exposure. The binge alcohol exposures were equivalent to roughly twice the legal limit for driving.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Marian and Ralph C. Falk Medical Research Trust.

The work was conducted in the Burn and Shock Trauma Research Institute by Brenda J. Curtis (a post-doctoral fellow), Sara Hlavin (MS student) and Aleah L. Brubaker (MD/PhD student) along with Elizabeth J. Kovacs, PhD.

The Loyola University Chicago Health Sciences Division (HSD) advances interprofessional, multidisciplinary, and transformative education and research while promoting service to others through stewardship of scientific knowledge and preparation of tomorrow's leaders. The HSD is located on the Health Sciences Campus in Maywood, Illinois. It includes the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, the Stritch School of Medicine, the biomedical research programs of the Graduate School, and several other institutes and centers encouraging new research and interprofessional education opportunities across all of Loyola University Chicago. The faculty and staff of the HSD bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and a strong commitment to seeing that Loyola's health sciences continue to excel and exceed the standard for academic and research excellence. For more on the HSD, visit LUC.edu/hsd.
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