04/10/2014 11:59 am ET

Why Binge Drinking Seems To Impair Wound Healing

A new study in mice reveals why wounds seem to heal more slowly for people who binge drink.

Researchers from the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine found that binge alcohol exposure is associated with fewer macrophages, which are white blood cells that digest debris and pathogens, including infectious bacteria. This in turn could increase the risk of infection for the wound.

Binge alcohol exposure also seems to be associated with impaired production of macrophage inflammatory protein-1 alpha (a protein that calls for macrophages to come to the site of a wound), as well as decreased levels of cathelicidin-related antimicrobial peptide, or CRAMP (a protein on the skin's outermost layer that kills bacteria and also recruits macrophages to wounds).

The study, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, involved examining wound healing of mice that were either treated with ethanol (to mimic binge alcohol exposure) or saline (as the control group). The pattern of ethanol exposure for the mice was as follows: three days of exposure, then four days without exposure to alcohol, then three days again of alcohol exposure. The researchers noted that the amount of alcohol the mice were exposed to would be similar to being two times over the legal blood alcohol level driving limit.

"Our research suggests that episodic binge [ethanol] intoxication prior to skin wound infection impairs the normal macrophage inflammatory response and epidermal AMP production," the researchers wrote in the study. "These defects likely limit the transition into the proliferative phase of the normal wound healing process to increase morbidity in intoxicated patients."