Science Says: Cocktails Could Protect You From Getting Sick

Science! Photoillustration by Matt Connolly. Sick woman: <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-64485970/stock-photo-vitamins-medicines-and-hot-tea-in-front-woman-caught-cold-sleeping-in-background.html?src=BF3neirAo5A-6tQuu0VRJg-1-6">StockLite</a>/Shutterstock; Jägermeister: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:J%C3%A4germeister_50cl.jpg">Antti29</a>/Wikimedia Commons

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With the onslaught of holiday parties upon us, a bad case of the sniffles could threaten your merrymaking. Luckily science has swooped in with the jolliest solution of all: You can boost your immune system, a new study claims, by drinking that spiked eggnog.

The moderate drinkers demonstrated an enhanced immune response—better even than the teetotaling control group.

A team of researchers from Oregon Health & Science University trained 12 rhesus macaques—chosen for the similarity between their immune system and ours—to drink a 4 percent ethanol cocktail. They vaccinated the monkeys against small pox and divided them into two groups: one that had access to the cocktails and one to sugar water. (Both groups were also given food and regular water.)

Over the course of the 14-month study, the researchers found that the monkeys in the booze cage drank varying amounts—some got stewed all day, clocking blood ethanol concentrations higher than 0.08, while others kept their intake moderate, between 0.02 and 0.04. “Like humans,” lead author Ilhem Messaoudi said, “rhesus macaques showed highly variable drinking behavior.”

After drinking for seven months, the macaques received another booster shot, and their reactions were remarkably different. The immune systems of the bad monkeys that drank too much failed to produce the antibodies the body usually makes in response to a vaccine. The moderate drinkers, on the other hand, demonstrated an enhanced immune response—better even than the teetotaling control group. The researchers can’t yet fully explain the results, but one possible explanation is that modest amounts of alcohol stimulate the immune system.

The benefits of moderate drinking are well documented, from reduced risk of Alzheimer’s to improved cardiovascular function. But while a glass or two of wine with dinner might promote health, the researchers emphasized that excessive alcohol consumption is deleterious to immune function, no matter how merry one may feel.

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