Researchers have suggested that moderate drinking of alcohol may actually bolster one’s immune system and help it fight off infection. To conduct the study, the researchers trained a group of 12 rhesus macaques to consume alcohol — a 4 percent ethanol mixture — of their own accord. Researchers vaccinated the monkeys against small pox as part of the study. They then separated the animals into two groups — those with access to the 4 percent ethanol and those with access to sugar water.
All of the animals had regular access to pure water, and to food. The researchers then monitored the animals’ daily ethanol consumption for 14 months. And the animals were vaccinated again, seven months after the experiment began. The monkeys’ voluntary ethanol consumption segregated them into two groups. One group was made up of heavy drinkers, those that had an average blood ethanol concentration greater than 0.08 percent — the legal limit for humans to be able to drive a vehicle.
The other group was made up of moderate drinkers, with an average blood ethanol concentration of 0.02 to 0.04 percent. Prior to consuming the alcohol, all of the animals showed comparable responses to the vaccination. But after exposure to the alcohol, the two groups of monkeys responded in very different ways to the vaccination. The heavy drinkers showed greatly diminished vaccine responses compared with the control group of monkeys who drank the sugar water. But the more surprising finding: the moderate-drinking monkeys displayed enhanced responses to the vaccine compared to the control group. Moderate drinking bolstered their bodies’ immune systems.