It's the time of year when many of us celebrate the holidays with festive foods and drinks, including alcohol. No better time then to ask if it is true, as is widely held, that moderate consumption of alcohol is beneficial to health.
A research team led by an immunologist at the University of California, Riverside now has data that could put the question to rest. The researchers found that moderate alcohol consumption could bolster our immune system, and potentially our ability to fight infections.
The finding, published Dec. 17 in the journal Vaccine, can help lead to a better understanding of how our immune system works. It can also pave the way for potentially new interventions to improve our ability to respond to vaccines and infections, benefiting vulnerable populations, such as the elderly for whom the flu vaccine, for example, has been found to be largely ineffective.
"It has been known for a long time that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with lower mortality," said Ilhem Messaoudi, an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine and the lead author of the research paper. "Our study, conducted on non-human primates, shows for the first time that voluntary moderate alcohol consumption boosts immune responses to vaccination."
Messaoudi did the bulk of the research while she was an assistant professor at the Oregon Health and Science University, where she collaborated with Kathleen Grant, a professor of behavioral neuroscience and a coauthor on the research paper. She joined UC Riverside earlier this year.
To study the impact of alcohol consumption on the immune system, the researchers trained 12 rhesus macaques to self-administer/consume alcohol on their own accord. The team first vaccinated the animals (against small pox) and then allowed them to access either 4 percent ethanol (the experimental group) or calorically matched sugar water (the control group). All the animals also had open access to water as an alternative fluid, as well as food. The researchers then proceeded to monitor the animals' daily ethanol consumption for 14 months. The animals were vaccinated one more time, seven months after the experiment began.
The research team found that over nine months of the animals' ethanol self-administration, mean daily ethanol intake varied markedly among them.
"Like humans, rhesus macaques showed highly variable drinking behavior," Messaoudi said. "Some animals drank large volumes of ethanol, while others drank in moderation."
The animals' voluntary ethanol consumption segregated them into two groups: animals in the first group were those that consumed more alcohol, averaged a blood ethanol concentration (BEC) greater than the legal limit of 0.08 percent and were therefore designated 'heavy drinkers'; animals in the second group consumed less alcohol, averaged a BEC of 0.02-0.04 percent and were designated 'moderate drinkers.'
"Prior to consuming alcohol, all the animals showed comparable responses to vaccination," Messaoudi said. "Following exposure to ethanol, however, the animals showed markedly different responses after receiving the booster vaccine."
The researchers found that, as expected based on human epidemiological data, those animals that drank the largest amounts of alcohol showed greatly diminished vaccine responses compared to the control group. In contrast, animals that drank moderate amounts of ethanol displayed enhanced vaccine responses.
"These surprising findings indicate that some of the beneficial effects of moderate amounts of alcohol consumption may be manifested through boosting the body's immune system," Messaoudi said. "This supports what has been widely believed for some time: moderate ethanol consumption results in a reduction in all causes of mortality, especially cardiovascular disease. As for excessive alcohol consumption, our study shows that it has a significant negative impact on health."
Alcohol abuse kills 25,000 Americans annually and is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the country. Two thirds of U.S. adults consume approximately four drinks a week, considered to be a moderate amount by most consumers.
"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 that has, say, a glass of wine with dinner, it does seem, in general, to improve heath, and cardiovascular function in particular, and now we can add the immune system to that list."
The study was carried out under strict accordance with the recommendations outlined in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals of the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Animal Welfare and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The study was also approved by the Oregon National Primate Research Center Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
"Next, we plan to harness our observations made in this study to address bigger questions on the immune system, such as how can we boost our immune responses to vaccination, a particular challenge for our elderly," Messaoudi said.
She and Grant were joined in the study by F. Engelmann at UCR; M. Asquith and M. Brown at the Oregon National Primate Research Center; and B. Park, A. Rau and J. Shaw at the Oregon Health and Science University.
The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health.
The University of California, Riverside is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. UCR also has ISDN for radio interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.
Iqbal Pittalwala | EurekAlert!
The genes are not to blame
20.07.2018 | Technische Universität München
Targeting headaches and tumors with nano-submarines
20.07.2018 | Universitätsmedizin der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.
The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
20.07.2018 | Information Technology
20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences