The Link Between Alcohol and Allergies

Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is an antibody associated with allergies. The tendency to produce IgE antibodies to harmless antigens in the environment is increasing. Such antibody production seems to be increasing in the general population. Serum IgE levels can be increased by infection, parasites and exposure to environmental toxins. One of the toxins that seems to increase IgE levels is alcohol.

According to a study published in the January, 2002 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, moderate consumption of alcohol can increase IgE levels. Previous studies have shown that heavy alcohol consumption increases IgE levels, but this study looked at minor to moderate alcohol consumption in 406 subjects.

The predisposition toward developingIgE antibodies to environmental allergens is called “atopy”. In the study, 71% (325) of the subjects were classified as atopic based on a skin-prick test for common allergens. Most of these patients were allergic to dust mites (253 of the atopic subjects).

Of the subjects, 260 consumed alcohol (the median amount in that group was30 grams per week—or the equivalent of three drinks per week). The other 200 subjects consumed no alcohol at all. Patients who consumed 70 grams of alcohol or more per week (one drink per day) had higher total serum IgE levels. In the patients allergic to dust mites, higher alcohol consumption was associated with higher levels of IgE specific to the dust mites.

According to Arturo González-Quintela, associate professor of internal medicine at the ComplejoHospitalarioUniversitariode Santiago, Spain and corresponding author of the study stated that notall atopic patients get allergic symptoms. Along with a genetic background, they will also need allergen exposure. He also states that some environmental factors more than others favor allergic or IgE-mediated immune responses. He believes that more research is needed to improve the understanding of allergic diseases and what role alcohol consumption may play.

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