Fruit flies use alcohol to to self medicate to increase their survival rate when infected with a bloodborne parasite according to an Emory University study.
This research shows alcohol can protect against infectious disease and particular against blood-borne parasites. Could this work for humans too if they consumed a large amount of alcohol?
The fly larvae eat the rot, or fungi and bacteria, that grows on overripe, fermenting fruit. “They’re essentially living in booze,” researcher Schlenke says. The amount of alcohol in their natural habitat can range from 5% to 15%. Can you imagine if everything that you ate and drank all day long was 5% alcohol? Humans wouldn’t be able to live like that, but fruit flies are really good at detoxifying alcohol.
To test the theory, the researchers used a bisected petri dish filled with the yeast that fruit flies are normally fed in a lab environment. The yeast on one side of the dish was mixed with 6% alcohol, while the yeast on the other side remained alcohol-free. The researchers then released fruit fly larvae into the dish, allowing them to freely move to either side.
After 24 hours, 80% of the fruit fly larvae that were infected with the wasps that were on the alcohol side of the dish, while only 30% of the non-infected fruit fly larvae were on the alcohol side.
The infected fruit flies really did seem to purposely consume alcohol and the alcohol consumption correlated to a much higher survival rates for the fruit flies. The alcohol diet was far less effective against the specialist wasps, killing them in only 10% of the cases researched.
Many studies in humans have shown decreased immune function in chronic consumers of alcohol, little attempt has been made to assay any beneficial effect of acute or moderate alcohol use on parasite mortality or overall host fitness following infection according to the researchers.
Could someone become an alcoholic by trying to ward off an infectious disease?