So You can Drink and Be Healthy

December 20, 2013
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The holidays are upon us, and things are about to get silly. We’ve dusted off our snazzy clothes (of a slightly larger size to accommodate gluttony) and the upstairs fridge, basement fridge, various coolers, and car trunks are filled with holiday booze. However, winter has a way of being unforgiving and most likely illness is coming your way (if a cold hasn’t already begun to ruin your merriment). So all is lost, right? Kinda empirically wrong!

Folks from Oregon Health & Science University have deemed certain levels of booze consumption good for the immune system. The Oregon team took twelve rhesus macaques, apes with immune systems not unlike our own, and split them up into a party cage (4% ethanol cocktails readily available) and a boring cage (sugar water), both receiving normal nutrition (science is not always that cruel to animals I guess). The study, clocking in at 14 months, showed that the monkeys varied in their drinking habits (like us, they can be slobs or prudes), but also that moderate levels of booze can help the immune system.

winter drinking
Mrry chrzmzzz…

At the beginning of the study, the creatures were given a shot against smallpox, and halfway through the same vaccination was used. The team found that the highest levels of defense against antibodies in the shot were to be found in the nominally boozy macaques. Science is at a loss to totally explain things, but one theory is that a bit of hooch can inspire the immune system to get ready for battle.

Benjy Hansen-Bundy (Mother Jones) urged readers in his coverage of the study that excessive drinking is still harmful to the immune system. A glass of wine or two can actually aid in the human body’s defenses (in 2009, Hiroyasu Iso and Takeshi Tanigawa wrote in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research that said amount lessened the risk of heart ailments), but draining a keg all by your lonesome is (while rad) very harmful to your creaturely husk.

So what does science leave us with? It goes without saying that during the holidays we are prone to drinking a whole lot of alcohol, and draining our body of its ability to stop viruses and other sicknesses from infiltrating. And we’ll probably do all this with a cold already festering in our sinuses and nose, etc. But booze then doesn’t have to be the enemy, but a carefully thought out solution (the best medicine is fun!).

Here’s my highly non-scientific recommendation (after reading what I believe to be science). Actively decide to not get hammered and destroyed every single night, but maybe the first vacation night have a couple glasses of wine or two fingers of stronger booze. Wake up the next day and see whether you feel better. Repeat. If the science above is correct, we’ll be ready for the big drinkin’ in no time (factoring in, of course, some days to soberly recover and gauge your body’s bacterial barriers).

Personally, I’m all for this. Once in a bar in Granada, a kindly Englishman saw me sniffling up a storm and slid a glass of whiskey my way. After drinking that, I was in the clear, at least for the rest of the evening of merriment. So the method works, but it’s probably wise to take it slow at first so utter destruction doesn’t away December 24th to January 2nd. Godspeed, Internet friends, and have a crazy holiday.

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