A research team led by an immunologist at the University of California, Riverside now has data that show that moderate alcohol consumption could bolster our immune system, and potentially our ability to fight infections.
The finding was published Dec. 17 in the journal Vaccine. Researchers hope this new information can help lead to a better understanding of how our immune system works and possibly lead to ways to boost the efficacy of vaccines .
While numerous studies have show that moderate alcohol consumption actually lowers the risk of early death, this study is the first to show that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has a specific beneficial effect on immune responses to vaccination.
One caveat: the research wasn't done on humans. Instead it was a dozen rhesus macaques who were dosing themselves with alcohol. The primates were then vaccinated and the immune response in the animals measured against a control group that drank only sugar water.
After 7 months both groups were vaccinated again.
One of the interesting aspects of the study was that the macaques were allowed to self-administer the alcohol, and the researchers found that over the nine months they were monitored, the study group's daily alcohol consumption varied significantly.
Some animals drank large volumes of ethanol, while others drank in moderation. The researchers then segregated the heavy drinkers, let's call them the "drunk monkeys," from the moderate drinkers, who averaged a blood alcohol level of .02 to .04 percent. Let's call them the "designated drivers."
Prior to consuming alcohol, all the animals showed similar responses to vaccination , but after consuming alcohol their responses differ significantly. Unsurprisingly, the "drunk monks" showed a seriously diminished response to the vaccine. But what surprised researchers was that the "designated drivers" had an enhanced immune response in comparison to the control group.
So as has been found previously, moderate drinking is once again linked to a reduction in a cause of illness and death, and heavy drinking- once again, bad news for your health,even if you're a macaque.
And, once again, researchers don't suggest taking up drinking just for the immune boost! Especially if you have a family history of abuse.
The study was carried out under strict accordance with the recommendations outlined in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals of the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Animal Welfare and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The study was also approved by the Oregon National Primate Research Center Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.