Bottoms Up: Monkeys Show Alcohol Helps Prevent Illness

You probably don’t need another reason to down a bottle of wine this winter, but here it is: A study from Oregon Health & Science University found moderate drinking may actually bolster our immune system and prevent sickness.

Twelve rhesus macaques, monkeys who have very similar immune systems to human beings, were separated into a group who were given an alcoholic drink containing 4 percent ethanol and one who only received sugar water. All the monkeys were given a smallpox vaccine. It was completely up the monkeys on how much they wanted to drink, and the researchers monitored their daily ethanol consumption for 14 months. The animals were also vaccinated again seven months after the experiment began.

Some of the monkeys partied hard, attaining blood ethanol concentrations above 0.08, while others stuck around 0.02 and 0.04.

Prior to consuming the alcohol, all of the animals showed comparable responses to the vaccination. After exposure to the alcohol, the heavy drinkers showed greatly diminished vaccine responses compared with the control group of monkeys who drank the sugar water. Nothing surprising there.

However, the moderate-drinking monkeys displayed enhanced responses to the vaccine compared to the control group. Moderate drinking bolstered their bodies’ immune systems.

Science has known for years that people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol actually have a reduced risk of death, are generally healthier, and have better cardiovascular function that those who don’t drink alcohol at all. Now the researchers will try to better understand why the immune system reacts as it does to moderate alcohol. That may lead to a pharmaceutical alternative that could provide the same benefits as the moderate alcohol consumption.

Great news, right? I suppose I must stress the word “moderate,” but still a victory in my book.


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