11 August 1999

Drink wine its good for your immune system!

by Kate Melville

Red wine unlike many other alcoholic beverages, does not subdue the immune system, according to nutrition researcher Susan Percival from the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. While red wine has been reported to aid in the prevention of heart disease and cancer, there has been no studies as to whether alcohol content might neutralise any benefits.

Percival's new research seems to indicate that the circulating white blood cells that fight infection are not helped, or hurt by red wine consumption. "There's been a lot of publicity lately on the health benefits of red wine, but we also know that alcohol suppresses the immune system. …So we wanted to find out whether red wine had a suppressive effect on immunity."

During the eight-week study, mice were divided into four groups designed to replicate moderate alcohol consumption for humans:

1 Teetotalers (who drank only water)

2 Cabernet Savignon wine drinkers

3 Muscadine wine drinkers

4 Ethanol drinkers (received alcohol in concentrations equivalent to that in the wine).

(the mice were given the equivalent of two or three glasses, or servings, of wine or alcohol per day). Once the mice had an established drinking habit, the researchers made them mildly ill to see how their immune systems would respond while under the influence of alcohol. Those drinking ethanol experienced a suppressed immune response, while the mice who drank wine maintained normal immunity. According to Percival, "We found that the animals that consumed straight ethanol had lower levels of white blood cells than any other group….However, the same amount of alcohol, consumed as red wine, resulted in no suppression of the immune response".

Basically the research indicates that there is something in red wine that prevents suppression of the immune system, but can'tr pinpoint exactly what might cause this. There is some indication that the effect may be due to the antioxidants in the pigment found in red wine but further research is required.