Drink to your health — once again

’Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry! And perhaps a few of those seasonal sips will be of the adult variety.

So maybe it’s not a huge surprise that a study published in December 2013 by OHSU researchers got a bit more coverage in recent weeks.

The study, whose senior author was Kathy Grant of the OHSU Brain Institute and OHSU’s Oregon National Primate Research Center, found that moderate drinking may help boost the immune system, helping us fight off infections.

Whether media misread which December the study was actually published, or whether they thought we just might need a reminder, there was a bit of coverage again recently.

And, by the way, the study’s happy assessment still applies.


Originally posted December 31, 2013

There’s possibly no better time to highlight this research story than on New Year’s eve: a drink or two a day — a glass of wine, a glass of beer — might also keep the doctor away.

That’s what colleagues and I found in a study published this month in the journal Vaccine. We studied the drinking behaviors of rhesus macaque monkeys, who were given 22-hour-a-day access to a mixture of alcohol and water — and allowed to drink or not drink it. What we found after 14 months of study: the immune system of the monkeys that drank “moderate” amounts of alcohol were actually bolstered — more than the monkeys who drank more heavily and more than a control group of monkeys who drank a low-calorie sugar solution. We defined “moderate” drinking as monkeys who had a blood alcohol level of 0.02 to 0.04 percent (A blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent is the limit for humans to be able to legally drive a vehicle.).

The media coverage of our work — which has been extensive, in USA Today, Time, The Daily Beast and elsewhere — has focused on the happy news that drinking in moderation might help boost our immune system and help us fight off infection. But my colleague, Ilhem Messaoudi Powers (formerly at OHSU, now at the University of California-Riverside), and I want our research to go beyond that. We want to better understand how our body is reacting to moderate alcohol to actually have this effect. The goal would be to then find new, alcohol-free ways — maybe new medications — to boost the immune system, in generally healthy people and in people with immunodeficiency.

Of course, based on what we’ve found, it looks like people might be able to get that boost by enjoying their New Year’s Eve with that glass of wine, as well.  But remember — it’s all about moderation.


Kathy Grant, Ph.D.
Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience
OHSU Brain Institute



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  1. did it matter what type of alcohol? red wine specifically or would white do the same? what about hard liquor?

  2. It is exciting to be finding ways to boost our needy immune systems. I just get nervous with this kind of announcement, there are too many people out there looking for an excuse
    to Overindulge. Thanks for the “remember it’s all about moderation”.

  3. Jennifer, the study was done by allowing rhesus macaques to drink a mixture of ethanol and water if they chose to. A mixture of five percent ethanol was added to some water available to the macaques; normal drinking water was also available. Ethanol is the form of alcohol that exists in liquors that humans drink; so the study’s findings would apply to all alcoholic beverages.

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