Moonshine, also known as white lightning, mountain dew, hooch, and many other names, refers to high-proof distilled spirits that are usually produced illegally. Moonshine typically has an alcohol content of over 50% ABV (100 proof). Throughout history, some people have claimed that drinking moonshine can cure or alleviate symptoms of the common cold. But is there any scientific evidence to support this notion? Let’s take a closer look.
What is moonshine?
Moonshine refers to high-proof distilled spirits, especially corn whiskey, that are produced illegally without government authorization. The term “moonshine” comes from distillers producing the liquor at night (“by the light of the moon”) to avoid detection by law enforcement. Traditional moonshine is a type of whiskey made from a fermented mash of corn and other grains. It gets its high alcohol proof from being distilled multiple times. The alcoholic strength of moonshine typically ranges from 80-150 proof or 40-75% ABV.
Moonshine first became popular in Appalachia in the late 18th century as a way for farmers to turn excess corn and other grains into profitable liquor. Because it was distilled illegally, moonshine could be produced cheaply without taxation. The prohibition of alcohol production without a license from 1920 to 1933 also contributed to moonshine’s popularity. Today, it’s still produced illegally by some distillers wishing to avoid taxes and regulations associated with legally produced spirits.
Is there any scientific evidence that moonshine can cure colds?
There is no scientific evidence that consuming moonshine cures or alleviates symptoms associated with the common cold. The notion that moonshine has medicinal properties for colds appears to be primarily anecdotal. However, there are a few potential reasons why this folk remedy became popular:
- Alcohol causes vasodilation (widening of blood vessels), which can create a temporary sensation of clearing nasal congestion.
- The antimicrobial properties of alcohol may help reduce secondary infections that can prolong cold symptoms.
- The placebo effect – if people believe moonshine has curative powers, they may actually feel better after drinking it.
Let’s analyze each of these points further:
Vasodilation from alcohol
Drinking any alcoholic beverage causes vasodilation – widening of blood vessels – due to the pharmacological effects of ethanol. This can temporarily alleviate nasal congestion and possibly give the impression that cold symptoms have been “cured.” However, this effect is very short-lived. Once the alcohol is metabolized and excreted, nasal congestion will return. No studies have looked specifically at moonshine’s effects on vasodilation.
Some research indicates that ingesting alcohol can reduce the duration of upper respiratory infections by inhibiting bacterial growth. This may be due to the antimicrobial properties of ethanol itself, rather than any special qualities of moonshine per se. However, the amount of alcohol typically needed to inhibit bacteria (around 40% ABV) is higher than what most people can tolerate drinking. Overall, any minor antimicrobial benefits are outweighed by alcohol’s negative effects on the immune system.
The placebo effect can be very powerful. If people believe drinking moonshine will cure a cold, they may actually report feeling better after drinking it due to the expectation alone. This is a psychological rather than physiological effect. The placebo effect could make someone feel their cold symptoms have improved when no medical benefit has actually occurred.
Does moonshine have any health benefits?
When consumed in moderation, research shows alcohol can provide some health benefits, such as:
- Reducing risk of heart disease
- Lowering risk of diabetes
- Reducing risk of dementia
- Increasing good cholesterol (HDL)
However, no studies have looked specifically at health impacts of consuming illegal moonshine. Its high alcohol concentration makes moonshine risky to drink in excess:
- High chance of alcohol poisoning due to very high ABV
- May contain dangerous contaminants like lead or methanol
- Increased risk of accidents, violence, and drunk driving
- Can exacerbate depression and anxiety when abused
Overall, moonshine is considered less safe than legal alcoholic beverages, as its production is not regulated for quality control or safety. Any health benefits would need to be weighed against increased health risks.
What does science say about treating the common cold?
According to scientific research, there is no cure for the common cold. Colds are caused by viruses, so antibiotics that treat bacterial infections are ineffective. Typical over-the-counter remedies only help manage symptoms, not eliminate the virus entirely. Here’s what the science says about treating cold symptoms:
Get plenty of rest
Resting helps conserve energy so your body can focus on fighting the virus. Staying well hydrated is also key.
Try over-the-counter medications
Decongestants, antihistamines, cough syrups, and pain relievers can relieve certain cold symptoms, but won’t shorten duration.
Use nasal irrigation
Saltwater nasal sprays help flush out mucus and soothe nasal passages.
Try hot tea or soup
The warm steam can temporarily relieve congestion and sore throat pain.
Antibiotics have no effect on viral infections like colds.
Let it run its course
Most colds resolve on their own within 7-10 days without complications. Severe or long-lasting symptoms may indicate a secondary bacterial infection requiring antibiotics.
While folk remedies like moonshine may provide comfort, no strong clinical evidence supports their effectiveness against colds. Talk to a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve with standard over-the-counter treatments.
Dangers and risks of drinking moonshine
While some may believe old folk tales about moonshine’s “medicinal properties,” it’s important to remember that moonshine can be dangerous and should be avoided:
Moonshine often contains dangerous impurities like lead, methanol, or acetone from improper distilling methods. This can cause blindness or death if consumed.
Extremely high alcohol content
Typical moonshine ranges from 100-150 proof. Drinking too much can lead to deadly alcohol poisoning.
Addiction and abuse risks
Overuse of any alcoholic beverage, including moonshine, can lead to alcoholism and dependency.
Violence and drunk driving
Excessive drinking of moonshine is associated with increased risks of interpersonal violence, domestic abuse, and drunk driving in communities where illicit distilling is common.
Lack of quality control
Moonshine is often produced using unsafe DIY methods without regulation or quality control standards.
In short, moonshine is a risky and potentially dangerous substance that should be avoided, especially by those suffering from cold symptoms. The notion that moonshine can cure or alleviate colds is a myth without scientific backing.
Legal and political aspects of moonshine
Moonshine occupies a controversial place in American legislative history and pop culture. Here are some key legal and political points about moonshine production and consumption:
- The Whiskey Rebellion of 1791-1794 protested a federal tax on liquor, setting up conflict between distillers and the government.
- Prohibition from 1920-1933 banned beverage alcohol nationwide, leading to widespread illegal moonshining.
- Illegal liquor trade fueled organized crime during Prohibition, increasing violence.
- The moonshine industry declined after Prohibition ended, but illicit distilling continued in rural areas.
- State governments have varied policies regulating personal liquor production and bootlegging laws.
- In 2010, the ATF cracked down on illegal Appalachian moonshine operations as a safety hazard.
- Some states have relaxed laws, allowing small-batch or “craft” moonshine for personal consumption.
So while historically prohibited, moonshine laws have loosened in recent decades. But production and sale of untaxed liquor remains illegal. Safety concerns also continue around high-proof moonshine.
Cultural depictions of moonshine
Moonshining has long captured the American imagination. It’s featured prominently in these cultural works:
- The Dukes of Hazzard – 1980s TV series about moonshining brothers
- “The Midnight Special” – 1930s song by Lead Belly about a prisoner seeking moonshine
- White Lightning – 1973 Burt Reynolds film about running bootleg whiskey
- Thunder Road – 1958 Robert Mitchum film about illegal moonshine drivers
- Moonrunners – 1975 film that inspired The Dukes of Hazzard
And moonshine references still abound in modern country songs and Southern fiction. Though illegal, moonshining occupies a romanticized place in American folklore and culture.
Despite long-standing folklore, there is no scientific proof that drinking moonshine actually cures or alleviates symptoms of the common cold. While it may provide temporary relief due to the placebo effect or alcohol-related vasodilation, moonshine is not a safe, effective remedy. Consuming moonshine – especially in excess – comes with substantial health and safety risks due to its unregulated high alcohol content. Those feeling under the weather are better off sticking to regular rest, fluids, and over-the-counter cold medications recommended by a doctor. And they should steer clear of questionable folk remedies like moonshine, which could end up doing more harm than good to your health.