Alcoholic beverages are characterized by their fermented versus distilled origin and also by their degree of alcohol. The toxic effects of chronic alcohol consumption have been widely studied. However, there is less evidence about possible beneficial effects of moderate alcohol intake. This work was aimed at evaluating the effects of moderate alcohol consumption (beer or ethanol) on plasma hormone concentrations, blood and thymus lymphocyte phenotypes and brain neurotransmitter levels. For this purpose, 40 adult Wistar male rats were administered ethanol or beer for 4 weeks (experimental groups). Age-matched rats were administered beer without alcohol or water to be used as controls. Rats were killed by decapitation and plasma from the trunk blood was collected to measure plasma prolactin, growth hormone and ACTH concentrations by homologous specific double antibody radioimmunoassays. Thymus and blood lymphocyte subsets were measured by flow cytometry. Neurotransmitter concentrations [dopamine, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and taurine] were measured by high pressure liquid chromatography in the median eminence and the pituitary. Blood and thymus lymphocyte subsets were not significantly changed by either ethanol or beer consumption, compared to controls. Plasma prolactin levels significantly decreased in ethanol-administered groups (p < 0.05) compared to control animals drinking water, although plasma levels of growth hormone and ACTH were not modified by either alcohol used. Dopamine and GABA concentrations in the median eminence or in the adenohypophysis remained unmodified by moderate beer or ethanol consumption. However, taurine concentration was significantly increased in the pituitary (p < 0.05) in the group drinking ethanol compared to those groups drinking beer with or without alcohol. These data suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may change the regulatory mechanism of prolactin secretion. Whether these modifications have a physiological significance deserves further research.

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