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Moderate Alcohol Drinking May Have An Upside

Harold Mandel's picture
Enjoying a glass of wine

Drinking in moderation may not actually be a bad thing. Research has shown that moderate drinking may boost the body's immune system. This is good news for people who enjoy a social drink now and than or who may even enjoy a light drink or two at the end of each day to help them unwind. However, it is imperative to always keep in mind that drinking too much and drinking and driving are never good for anyone.

In a study on rhesus macaques it was found that moderate alcohol consumption enhances vaccine-induced responses, reports the journal Vaccine on Dec. 17, 2013. However, chronic alcohol intoxication was found to suppress this response. Basically, the researchers found that in a rhesus macaque model of ethanol self-administration the immune response serum profile was lowered with heavy drinking, but increased with moderate drinking.

It has been known for years that people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol actually have a lowered risk of death, according to Oregon Health and Science University. Overall, people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol are healthier and have better cardiovascular function than people who abstain from drinking any alcohol at all. New research from Oregon Health & Science University has now shown that moderate alcohol drinking may also actually bolster our immune system and therefore help it fight off infection. Drinking alcohol in moderation has also been found to be linked to lower risk of depression, writes EmaxHealth reporter Teresa Tanoos.

This new research at Oregon Health and Science University opens up new horizons into understanding exactly how the immune system works while helping scientists discover new ways to improve the human body's ability to respond to vaccines and infections. These scientists did their research in rhesus macaques, which have been found to have an immune system which is very similar to humans. To do this study the researchers trained 12 rhesus macaques to consume alcohol, which was a 4 percent ethanol mixture, of their own free will.

The researchers vaccinated the monkeys against small pox as a part of their study. The monkeys were than separated into two groups, those who had access to the 4 percent ethanol and those monkeys with access to sugar water. There was regular access to pure water and food for all of the monkeys. The animals' daily ethanol consumption was monitored for 14 months by the researchers. Than, seven months after the experiment began, the monkeys were vaccinated again.

Ilhem Messaoudi, the lead author of the paper, said, “Like humans, rhesus macaques showed highly variable drinking behavior." In this study some of the monkeys drank large amounts of ethanol, while others drank in moderation. There was segregation of the monkeys into two groups based on their voluntary ethanol consumption. One of the groups of monkeys was made up of heavy drinkers, which included those monkeys that had an average blood ethanol concentration which was greater than 0.08 percent. This is the legal limit for people to be able to drive a vehicle. The other group of monkeys was made up of moderate drinkers, which was an average blood ethanol concentration of somewhere 0.02 to 0.04 percent.

The monkeys all showed similar responses to the vaccination prior to drinking the alcohol. However, after exposure to the alcohol, the two groups of monkeys were observed to respond in very different ways to the vaccination. The monkeys who were heavy drinkers displayed greatly diminished vaccine responses in comparison with the control group of monkeys who drank the sugar water. However, a more interesting finding was that the moderate-drinking monkeys displayed enhanced responses to the vaccine in comparison to the control group. Moderate drinking bolstered the immune systems of the monkeys.

Kathy Grant, Ph.D., senior author of the paper, said, “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." It was stressed by the researchers that excessive alcohol consumption caused harm to the monkeys' immune systems, in similar manners as excessive alcohol consumption is bad for human bodies in many different ways.

Messaoudi said that if you have a family history of alcohol abuse, or if you are at risk, or if you have been an abuser in the past, it is not at all recommended you go out and start drinking to improve your immune system. However, for the average person who has perhaps a glass of wine with dinner, the alcohol appears in general to improve health and cardiovascular function. Now we can add the immune system to that list of benefits from moderate alcohol consumption. It is hoped following up on this research may lead to the development of a pharmaceutical alternative which could provide the same benefits as the moderate alcohol consumption. The National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism funded this study.

People who drink moderately may not be as likely to experience an alcohol use disorder, writes the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Moderate or “low-risk” drinking levels differ for men and women. For men this is no more than 4 drinks on any single day and not more than 14 drinks in a week. For women this is no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks in a week.

To remain at low risk for an alcohol use disorder, you are encouraged to keep within both the single-day and weekly limits. And you should keep in mind that even within these limits, you may encounter problems if you drink too quickly or if you have other health issues. In order keep your risk for problems from alcohol low, you should make certain you drink slowly and eat enough while you are drinking.

Alcohol should be avoided completely in some situations, including:

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1: If you plan to drive a vehicle or operate machinery

2: If you take medications which interact with alcohol

3: If you have a medical condition that alcohol can aggravate

Although moderate drinking may be healthy, it may not be for some people, reports Harvard School of Public Health. Even if you are planning to just drink in moderation you should weigh the benefits versus the risks. Overall, drinking alcohol in moderation has health benefits. Moderate drinking is associated with improved cardiovascular health, particularly in middle age, when heart disease begins to account for a larger amount of disease and deaths. But, moderate drinking can increase the risk of colon and breast cancer. Drinking alcohol can be good for us, bad for us, and in some cases, somewhere in between, reports EmaxHealth reporter Tim Boyer, Ph.D.

It is not thought that people who do not drink should feel they have to begin drinking to improve their health. Furthermore, heavy drinkers should cut down or stop drinking altogether, due to an increased risk for:

1: Cancer

2: Heart disease

3: High blood pressure

4: Cirrhosis

5: Dependence

I have witnessed how serious the problem of excessive alcohol consumption really is. The problem first began to manifest itself as almost epidemic in nature during my college and medical school years. I am told the problem is just as bad on the law school and other post-graduate school campuses. And there are reports that dangerous drinking patterns have been emerging often in high school students.

Even the most conservative people may occasionally be lured into heavy and even binge drinking, which can be life threatening. The only unhealthy thing as prevalent on the campuses as too much alcohol is illicit drugs.It appears to me the educators at higher levels of education should take note of this serious problem and implement aggressive programs into the curriculums aimed at literally scaring people away from falling into the habit of overuse of alcohol and other dangerous substances, just as grade school teachers often do.

In view of the horrible life threatening problems associated with heavy drinking and binge drinking, I do not advise people who do not already drink to begin in order to boost your cardiac health and immune system health. Anybody can become dependent on this drug, and so it becomes a challenge for anyone to stay within moderate levels of drinking. There are other ways to maintain good cardiovascular health and good immune health, without alcohol, which includes daily exercise, good nutrition, and adequate rest and sleep. But, if you do choose to drink, remember to keep your drinking at moderate levels. If you can not keep your drinking at moderate levels, you should immediately seek help from a professional you can trust. Your life may depend on this.