New research from Oregon Health and Science University examined monkeys who drank alcohol and found that moderate alcohol consumption may actually boost the immune system. The research supplements earlier studies that showed moderate drinkers derived improved cardiovascular functioning and other health benefits from occasional imbibing. Researchers still cautioned against heavy drinking.

The key to alcohol’s potential health benefits is moderate consumption–a glass of wine at dinner, for example.

To study alcohol’s still largely unknown impacts on the immune system, researchers evaluated 12 rhesus macaques, commonly studied monkeys with immune systems similar to humans. Researchers vaccinated the animals against small pox, and then showed them how to drink a 4% ethanol mixture.

One group of six monkeys enjoyed unfettered access to the alcohol, drinking as much as they wanted. The remaining six drank sugar water instead. All had access to food and water. For 14 months, monkeys ate and drank at their leisure. Interestingly, some monkeys displayed a greater affinity for alcohol than others, with both heavy and moderate drinkers emerging in the pack. Seven months in, all subjects received a second small pox vaccination.

To evaluate how the monkeys’ alcohol consumption affected their immune systems, researchers separated the monkeys into three groups based on intake–non-drinkers, moderate drinkers, and heavy drinkers. They found that monkeys who drank moderately responded to the vaccine better than the other two groups. The heavy drinkers fared the worst of the three groups.

The study showed that moderate alcohol consumption may improve immune function in healthy adults. 

Researchers didn’t differentiate among wine, beer, or liquor, and warned that people prone to alcohol abuse should still abstain from drinking alcohol. Scientists still aren’t sure how the alcohol results in an immune boost, but uncovering that biological reaction could hold the key to figuring out new ways of helping the body fight infections unrelated to alcohol.

Would you drink moderately for the health benefits?

Image by Uncalno Tekno via Flickr


Weekly updates on conditions, treatments, and news about everything happening inside pain medicine.

You have Successfully Subscribed!