Are you a moderate drinker? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines “moderate drinking” as up to 1 drink a day for women and up to 2 drinks a day for men. For their purposes, a standard drink is 12 ounces of regular beer (around 5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (around 12% alcohol), or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol).

If you fit the above criteria, congratulations. By drinking moderately, scientists at Oregon Health & Science University say that you’re actually boosting your immune system.

immune system

Researchers from OHSU published the study in the journal Vaccine. They trained 12 rhesus macaques to drink alcohol with a 4% ethanol content whenever they wanted.

Then the researchers vaccinated all the macaques against small pox. The group was divided in half, with half the monkeys being given a normal diet of food and water and access to the alcohol mixture. The other group had the same access to food and water as the first group, but was only given sugar water instead of the alcohol mixture. All macaques were monitored for 14 months, with alcohol consumption recorded daily.

Some of the macaques with access to alcohol drank heavily, while others only drank moderately—very similar to their human counterparts. Over time, heavy drinkers showed an average blood alcohol concentration of greater than 0.08 percent. The macaques that drank moderately averaged between 0.02 and 0.04 percent.


Here’s the interesting part: before consuming alcohol, all the macaques reacted in similar ways to vaccination. After the differing levels of alcohol consumption, the macaques that drank alcohol in moderation showed enhanced immune responses to the vaccine. The heavy drinkers and sugar water drinkers did not fare as well regarding immune response.

Kathy Grant, Ph.D. and senior author on 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.”

This study interestingly enough, was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. What scientists don’t yet know is exactly how moderate alcohol consumption boosts immune function.

Ilhem Messaoudi, lead author on the paper, said, 

“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. 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.

We’ll raise a glass to that.

[via Mic, Mother Jones]