Myth-busting: tequila

The myth: Tequila is an upper, not a downer. 

The verdict: False

“Tequila is a drink of celebration for many people, and that social context can color how they feel about it,” says Keith Marton, adjunct professor at the Clinical Excellence Research Center at Stanford University in California. “But emotions have nothing to do with the pharmacological effects.” Alcohol itself is a depressant, so the more you drink, the slower, sleepier, and less stimulated you become, point blank. Tequila is no exception.

The myth: Tequila can cure colds. 

The verdict: False 

Because alcohol can kill germs, some people mistakenly believe it can help you get over a cold more quickly, but that’s not the case. Viral infections progress in a predictable pattern, Scott-Dixon says. If you come down with a cold, it’s because the virus that makes you sick has bonded with a cell receptor, entered your body, and spread through your system. 

Not even antiviral drugs can kill the bug, Scott-Dixon says. Tequila can’t, either. In fact, studies suggest alcohol actually suppresses the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness—not protecting you from it. If you feel like you're coming down with something, it's best to avoid alcohol so you don’t compromise your immune system further.

Myth: Mezcal is better for you than tequila.

Verdict: True—to a certain extent

First, a primer: Mezcal and tequila both come from the agave plant. While the latter only uses blue agave, mezcal is made with several species of the plant. In non-premium tequilas, however, other sugar sources (corn syrup, molasses) are allowed to comprise up to 49 percent of what’s in the bottle—without being stated on the label. Mezcal, on the other hand, can only be made with agave, no additives.

In that sense, mezcal can be considered a cleaner spirit than low-end tequila varieties are. That said, premium tequila is held to the same standards as mezcal, so neither option is healthier than the other. It’s always best to seek out brands that have as few additives as possible and are labeled as containing 100 percent agave.

The myth: Tequila has probiotic effects. 

The verdict: False 

A 2014 study suggested that blue agave nectar has certain health benefits. Wishful thinkers extrapolated the findings, claiming the research showed tequila acts as a probiotic in the body. Unfortunately, it’s not true. 

There’s a reason why alcohol is often used as an antiseptic, Marton explains: It inhibits both good and bad bacterial growth. He and Scott-Dixon note that living microorganisms like probiotics would not be able to survive in an 80-proof concoction. In fact, tequila (and other booze-y drinks) may have the opposite effect, harming the delicate balance of your gastrointestinal system. Taking a probiotic supplement daily, and following the three-to-one rule, can keep it in check.

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