People who drink moderate amounts of alcohol are actually healthier than the general population, with better cardiovascular function and a lower risk of death than teetotalers. Now researchers can add immune system benefits to that list. According to researchers at from Oregon Health & Science University, alcohol—in moderation—can help fight off infection.
"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," Kathy Grant, Ph. D., the senior author on the paper, said in a statement. While the research showed that heavy drinkers had poorer immune function than non-drinkers, immunity to infection was actually enhanced in the moderate-drinking group.
This ties in with observational evidence of the benefits of alcohol. People have long fought colds with Bourbon and brandy, and a component of red wine, called reservatrol, has been found to have beneficial effects on heart health. Reservatrol is an antioxidant, meaning it helps slow the decay of cells and tissue within the body that is responsible, at least in part, for most of the major diseases that primarily affect older people. In addition, alcohol is a blood-thinner, preventing clotting that can lead to stroke. It also helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure. All these effects, researchers have found, are due to the alcohol itself, regardless of other lifestyle factors, and are consistent across drinkers.
In fat, a nutrition guide developed by Harvard University researchers recommends moderate alcohol consumption except for people who are specifically likely to be harmed by it or who have had or are prone to problems with substance abuse. Diseases that have been found to be reduced in drinkers include duodenal ulcer, gallstones, kidney stones, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, dementia, type 2 diabetes, hearing loss, and angina pectoris. Furthermore, the ability of alcohol to reduce feelings of stress mean less depression and stress-related physical problems.