Updated 06 September 2019

Moderate alcohol consumption may support immunity

Forget an apple a day to keep the doctor away – research shows a glass of wine could be just as effective at supporting the immune system.

Those who enjoy a daily tipple may actually be doing your body some good by helping support your immune system. Recent studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption may in fact strengthen the immune system and could even improve the body's ability to fight infection.

One recent study, published in the journal, Vaccine, by researchers at the School of Medicine, University of California, showed that moderate drinking could also improve the body’s response to vaccinations such as the flu vaccine.

What is moderate drinking?

But before you throw away the wine cork, it’s important to realise that all health benefits associated with alcohol are primarily when it is imbibed in moderation. And moderation is generally accepted as no more than two drinks a day for men and only one a day for women.

One drink means one bottle of beer, one glass of wine or one shot of liquor such as whisky. However, the size of our glass has also to be considered – if you can fit half a bottle in your wine glass it’s safe to say that’s not equivalent to the one drink the experts advise.

For the study the researchers trained 12 rhesus macaques to consume alcohol on their own accord after vaccinating them against small pox. They were then provided access to 4% alcohol and the other group had access to sugar water. They all had access to normal water and food.

Over a 14-month period they were vaccinated again and the scientists found that their voluntary alcohol intake varied, as it does in humans. So they were divided into two groups – heavy drinkers and moderate drinkers. 

Read: Heavy drinkers influence friends

At the end of the study they found that heavy drinkers showed diminished responses to the vaccine compared with the monkeys that consumed sugar water. However, the moderate drinkers demonstrated an enhanced vaccine response.

Cheers to the common cold

Another study found that moderate drinking could provide protection from the common cold, especially in non-smokers.  The study, by the Department of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, was conducted in 1993 with 391 adults.

Same rules don’t apply for everyone

It’s important to note that any benefits from moderate drinking change depending on lifestyle and can change over time.

Generally, experts agree that the risks exceed the benefits for:

•    Pregnant women and the unborn child
•    Recovering alcoholics
•    Anyone with liver disease, past or present
•    People taking medications which interact with alcohol.

Read more:
Diagnosing immune disorders and allergies
10 immune system boosters

Loneliness taxes the immune system


Moderate alcohol consumption 'boosts immune system': Medical News Today.

7 ways alcohol affects your health: Live Science.

Smoking, alcohol consumption, and susceptibility to the common cold: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health

Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits: Harvard School of Public Health.

Amy Froneman (ACE-certified Personal Trainer, The KettleBelle – Personal Training)


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Lifestyle »

E-cigarettes: Here are five things to know

E-cigarettes have become hugely popular in the past decade, but a rash of vaping-linked deaths and illnesses in the US is feeding caution about a product that's already banned in some places.

Allergy »

Ditch the itch: Researchers find new drug to fight hives

A new drug works by targeting an immune system antibody called immunoglobulin E, which is responsible for the allergic reaction that causes hives.