New evidence suggests that a drink a day could help keep the doctor away — when it comes to cold and flu season, that is.
While plenty of research has touted the benefits of resveratrol, an ingredient in red wine, a small study published Dec. 18 in the journal Vaccine suggests that alcohol itself might have some immune-boosting effects — at least in moderation.
Since the immune system fights off invaders like the cold and flu, a drink here and there might just increase the odds you’ll stay healthy through the holidays.
Researchers vaccinated twelve rhesus macaque monkeys against smallpox and measured how much their immune systems rallied in response to the vaccine, a standard test of ability to fight disease and infection. Then they let the monkeys hang out for 22 hours a day with a choice of pure water or an ethanol and water solution about as alcoholic as a Bud Light.
The monkeys’ immune responses were tested again after seven months.
During that time some monkeys drank a lot and some were more modest in their boozing behaviour — just like humans.
The researchers found that heavy drinking had impaired immune response, while — to their surprise — moderate drinking had improved it. That means the moderate drinkers fared better than the teetotaling controls.
The findings are almost certainly appealing to human primates who enjoy the occasional happy hour, but there are some important caveats: The study was very small, in monkeys and not people (a common practice in immune research), and relied on an alcohol-water solution that you probably wouldn’t want on the menu at your corner bar.
But it’s also not the first study to link moderate drinking to boosted immunity.
One big study in the American Journal of Public Health found that moderate drinking was associated with a decreased risk of getting a cold, though the researchers emphasised booze isn’t a cold-fighting measure — no matter how many times you argue that vodka kills germs.
Still, there’s reason to be cautious. While studies define “moderate” drinking differently, some evidence seems to indicate that even moderate alcohol use may handicap your immune defenses. A review in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism concluded that drinking can actually increase susceptibility to infection and disease.
While the jury is still out on the alcohol-immunity link, a long list of research has found a positive link between moderate drinking and general health.
“For the average person who has, say, a glass of wine with dinner, it does seem in general to improve health and cardiovascular function,” said study author Ilhem Messaoudi of the University of California, Riverside in a press release.
“And now we can add the immune system to that list.”
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