Beer drinkers have clung to the hope that the brew is actually good for their health since those “Guinness is Good For You” posters emerged. Since then, numerous studies have found that beer can be good for people, at least in moderation, that’s the kicker. And since I prefer wine, I’m always psyched to read about how vino, especially red wine, can help with heart disease and cholesterol—provided I don’t drink the whole bottle myself. People who want to justify drinking may soon have a new angle to play up: it appears that when monkeys consume alcohol, their immune systems got stronger and their bodies had a more effective response to vaccines.
Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University and University of California School of Medicine recently published findings in Vaccine. They conducted the study to learn more about the immune system, and how to help it fight off infections and better leverage vaccinations. After vaccinating 12 rhesus monkeys, who have immune systems much like ours, against smallpox, the team trained one of the groups to booze it up. The alcohol they drank was a 4 percent ethanol mixture, while the other group drank sugar water. They all also had regular access to pure water and food. Just like people, the researchers noticed that the monkeys’ drinking habits varied widely. They were also aces at beer pong.
At the outset, researchers noted that all the subjects had similar responses to the smallpox vaccinations, so they repeated the vaccination after seven months of drinking. After monitoring their drinking habits, the boozy monkeys were divided into heavy drinkers and moderate drinkers based on their blood ethanol content. The results showed that the heavy drinkers had a suppressed response to the vaccine, while the monkeys that had been drinking water had a typical and consistent response. However, the moderate drinkers had an enhanced response to the vaccines.
The leader of the study claims that the findings indicate that the body’s immune system can be boosted by moderate alcohol consumption, and that “moderate ethanol consumption results in a reduction in all causes of mortality, especially cardiovascular disease. As for excessive alcohol consumption, our study shows that it has a significant negative impact on health.” The researchers are quick to say that people with certain health problems and risks probably shouldn’t start drinking for their health. The team will keep at this research, trying to find additional ways to boost immune system responses, especially in populations that tend to not respond effectively to vaccines, such as the elderly.
This is great news, especially for this time of year. Go ahead and spike that eggnog and crack a hard cider, and go ahead and have that second class of wine (but not more than 3 if you’re a female or 4 if you’re a male, per the standard definition of “moderate” drinking).
This is all well and good, but the real question is, did anyone card those monkeys?