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Moderate alcohol consumption boosts body’s immune system

Research from Oregon Health & Science University suggests that moderate drinking may help the immune system fight off infection. The research gives new insight into scientific understanding of the immune system, and could also help scientists find new ways to improve the human body’s ability to respond to vaccines and infections.

The research was based on rhesus macaques, which have an immune system very similar to humans. A group of rhesus macaques were vaccinated against small pox as part of the study. They then separated the animals into two groups — those with access to the 4% ethanol and those with access to sugar water. All of the animals had regular access to pure water, and to food. The researchers monitored the animals’ daily ethanol consumption for 14 months. And the animals were vaccinated again, seven months after the experiment began. The rhesus macaques showed highly variable drinking behaviour. Some drank large volumes of ethanol, while others drank in moderation. This voluntary ethanol consumption segregated them into two groups.

One group was made up of heavydrinkers, those that had an average blood ethanol concentration greater than 0.08 % — the legal limit for driving a vehicle in the US. The other group was made up of moderate drinkers, with an average blood ethanol concentration of 0.02 to 0.04 %. The heavy drinking monkeys showed greatly diminished vaccine responses compared with the control group. But the moderate-drinking monkeys displayed enhanced responses to the vaccine compared to the control group. Moderate drinking bolstered their bodies’ immune systems. “It seems that some of the benefits that we know of from moderate drinking might be related in some way to our immune system being boosted by that alcohol consumption,” said Kathy Grant, Ph.D., senior author on the paper, a professor of behavioural neuroscience at OHSU and a senior scientist at the ONPRC. The next steps for the researchers will be to better understand why the immune system reacts as it does to moderate alcohol consumption. Source: Moderate alcohol consumption enhances vaccineinduced responses in rhesus macaques.

I. Messaoudi, M. Asquith, F. Engelmann, B. Park, M. Brown, A. Rau, J. Shaw, K.A. Grant. Vaccine, Volume 32, Issue 1, 17 Dec 2013. Moderate alcohol consumption boosts body’s immune system

For the full critique of this paper by the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, please
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