Feeling fluey over Christmas? A glass of wine could boost your immune system

Police are catching many drink drivers the morning after they've had alcohol. Peter Rodger from the Institute of Advanced Motorists says we must pay attention to how much we drink.

The benefits of a moderate alcohol intake are reasonably well documented - a glass of red wine here and there can be beneficial for your heart, and other studies have shown reductions to the risk of diabetes, gallstones and the common cold.

Now, scientists can add 'improving your immune system' to the list of things that a light tipple might be able to do for you. A study by researchers at Oregon Health and Science University has concluded that moderate drinking boosts immune response.

Kathy Grant, senior author on the research paper, explained that the finding accounted for many of alcohol's benefits: '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.'

Grant and her team carried out a study in rhesus macaque monkeys, whose immune reactions are known to be very similar to humans'. The researchers trained a team of 12 monkeys to drink alcohol, in the form of a 4% ethanol mixture.

The monkeys were given smallpox vaccinations, and monitored for daily ethanol consumption over 14 months.

“Like humans, rhesus macaques showed highly variable drinking behavior," said Ilhem Messaoudi, the lead author of the paper.

Those that drank the most - an average blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, an amount equivalent with being over the legal drink-driving limit - showed a greatly diminished response to the vaccination.

But, in results that surprised the group, the monkeys who drank a moderate amount (between 0.02 and 0.04% blood alcohol) showed a better response than those who drank no alcohol at all.

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“If you have a family history of alcohol abuse, or are at risk, or have been an abuser in the past, we are not recommending you go out and drink to improve your immune system,” Messaoudi said. “But for the average person who has, say, a glass of wine with dinner, it does seem in general to improve health and cardiovascular function. And now we can add the immune system to that list."

The report indicates that one of the next possible steps would be to find a pharmaceutical alternative that could provide the same benefits as moderate alcohol consumption.

The NHS recommends that men drink no more than 3-4 units of alcohol per day (21-28 a week) and women should not exceed 2-3 per day (14-21 weekly).

Worried you might have gone beyond 'moderate' levels of drinking? Check out our tips on how to beat a hangover HERE