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Moderate alcohol consumption is good for health (Dave Dugdale/ Flickr)

Consuming moderate levels of alcohol can help improve immunity and the body's ability to fight infections, a new study says.

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside in the US reached the conclusion after the year-long experiments they conducted on monkeys.  For the study, Ilhem Messaoudi and colleagues included 12 rhesus macaques.  All animals received small pox vaccination and were trained to self-consume either 4 percent of ethanol or sugar water every day. The animals received their second dose of small pox vaccine in the seventh month of the study.

As the experiment continued, by nine months, some of the monkeys started taking more ethanol daily, making them heavy drinkers. Based on the drinking habit, monkeys were divided into three groups, moderate drinkers (below legal limit with a blood ethanol concentration (BEC) of 0.02-0.04), heavy drinkers (BEC above 0.08) and non-drinkers (control group).

At the end of the 14-month study, animals in the heavy drinking group and the moderate drinking group showed great differences the way their body responded to vaccines. Heavy drinkers had a greatly reduced vaccine response, while the moderate drinkers showed a better vaccine response.

"It has been known for a long time that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with lower mortality," Messaoudi, said in a news release. "Our study, conducted on non-human primates, shows for the first time that voluntary moderate alcohol consumption boosts immune responses to vaccination."

However, the authors cautioned people who are at greater risk of alcohol abuse, not to experiment their findings. "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 has been published in the journal Vaccine.

The findings support countless studies that have highlighted the role of alcohol in improving life expectancy.  A study reported in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research revealed that moderate drinking can help one live longer. In March 2012, Dr Jennifer Pai, from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston reported that taking two drinks daily  can help heart attack survivors live longer.  Early this month, researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel showed that exposure to ethanol helped improve length of telomeres, the sections of DNA found at the ends of chromosomes. Telomere shortening has long been known to damage immunity and increase risk of cancer.