Put That Quarantini Down: Why You Shouldn't Booze During a Pandemic
With bars shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, social media has served up a steady feed of virtual happy hour pics and homemade cocktails. Some even promising to boost your immunity with what amateur mixologists have dubbed the “quarantini.”
But does the cocktail of alcohol, local honey, and vitamin C promoted on blogs and Instagram offer any health benefits? According to Dr. Elisabeth Poorman, M.D., M.P.H., a primary care physician at the University of Washington, the answer is quite simply no.
But Wait, Doesn’t Alcohol Kill Germs?
To prevent the spread of germs, wash your hands frequently. When good old-fashioned soap and water aren’t available, yes, the CDC recommends using hand sanitizers that are at least 60 percent alcohol.
But contrary to alcohol’s reputation as an antiviral, there’s a difference between using it topically and consuming it internally. “Soap also removes germs from surfaces, but you wouldn’t eat it,” says Dr. Poorman. (Seriously, don’t eat soap. Most household cleaners come with warnings addressing this.)
Inside your body, the real germ killers are white blood cells, not vodka. In fact, drinking alcohol can actually lower levels of your best defense mechanism. (And your only one against COVID-19 right now.)
Will Honey Keep Me Healthy?
This might be a buzzkill, but according to Dr. Poorman, you won’t find a ton of science supporting this sweet nectar as a miracle worker either. Although it does have some benefits: “It can help soothe cough symptoms and fight [topical] infections,” she says.
But even in holistic circles, honey is touted mainly for its effects on local seasonal allergies — not a global virus. (Not to mention, it also counts as an added sugar.)
Isn’t Vitamin C Good for Everything?
Our bodies don’t produce or store vitamin C, so we do need to consume this essential nutrient, ideally from eating fruits and vegetables, recommends Dr. Poorman. Among its health benefits, vitamin C can potentially help with the symptoms of the common cold (not COVID-19), but alcohol may interfere with its absorption. So combining the two might be tasty and refreshing, but totally counterproductive to boosting your germ-fighting capacity, and will have zero effect with regards to helping you ward off COVID-19.
The Risks of Drinking During the COVID-19 Crisis
Externally, alcohol might kill some viruses, but internally, it can actually increase your chance of infections and compromise your body’s ability to fight illnesses.
The reasons? Alcohol messes with your immune system on several levels. For starters, “alcohol disrupts the barrier in your gut, making you more likely to inadvertently absorb harmful pathogens,” explains Dr. Poorman. In addition to that, it can throw off your sleep schedule, which is another important factor in staying healthy.
“Alcohol also suppresses bone marrow, where your blood cells are made,” says Dr. Poorman. “White blood cells are the cornerstone of actually fighting disease and alcohol makes them less effective.” Ultimately, it’s like giving your immune system’s star linebacker a raging hangover before the Super Bowl.
Studies have also linked heavy alcohol consumption to increased susceptibility to pneumonia, which can spell trouble when it comes to COVID-19, which is a respiratory illness that in worst-case scenarios can lead to pneumonia in both lungs and other complications.
So, What’s the Right Mix?
“We’re in an unsettling time and people want to feel a sense of control over the world,” says Dr. Poorman, adding that it’s easier to drink a cocktail than change your lifestyle, but the latter is far more important when it comes to staying healthy.
Compared to knocking back quarantinis, the things that keep your immune system performing at its peak might sound boring, explains Dr. Poorman. “You need to eat well, sleep properly, and reduce stress.”
Hold Up. Doesn’t Alcohol Reduce Stress?
“Alcohol makes you feel good in the moment, but when it’s used as a stress reliever over the long term, it makes you feel much worse,” says Dr. Poorman. “And it increases anxiety, along with a slew of other potential health issues.”
For a better way to shake up the doldrums of isolation, Poorman suggests taking a walk, exercising, limiting social media and access to news, and not making a screen the first and last thing you see every day. It’s also important to find meaningful ways to connect with friends and family.
Now is actually a really good time to explore the benefits of not drinking. With the social pressure of hanging out in bars gone or at least greatly reduced, you’re less likely to sucked into after-work happy hours or weekend binge-drinking. Cheers to that!