Cholesterol and Alcohol

You may have heard that drinking a glass or two of red wine each day can help reduce your risk of heart disease. It's true that alcohol has some heart-healthy benefits. But before you raise a glass and toast to your heart, know that the news about alcohol isn't entirely positive.

Alcohol Boosts ‘Good’ Cholesterol

A few studies have found that people who drink alcohol in moderation have lower rates of heart disease, and might even live longer than those who abstain. Alcohol has also been tied to a lower risk of blood clots and decreased levels of inflammation markers.

Many believe that the main benefit of alcohol comes from its ability to raise HDL cholesterol levels (the “good” type that helps sweep cholesterol deposits out of your arteries and protects against a heart attack).

In particular, red wine might offer the greatest benefit for lowering heart disease risk and death because it contains higher levels of natural plant chemicals -- such as resveratrol -- that have antioxidant properties and might protect artery walls.

Risks of Drinking Alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can actually increase your risk for heart disease and stroke, raise blood pressure, contribute to obesity, and increase the levels of fats called triglycerides in the blood.

Excessive drinking also can lead to heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy), irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), and stroke. Eventually, heavy alcohol use can leave the heart too weak to pump efficiently, a condition called congestive heart failure.

Because drinking alcohol also has other downsides, including increased risk of some cancers, cirrhosis of the liver, and an increased risk of accidents, the American Heart Association does not recommend that you start drinking wine or any other alcoholic beverages specifically to lower your cholesterol or improve your heart health. Instead, the organization advises watching your weight, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly to keep your cholesterol levels in check.

If you do plan to drink, check with your doctor first, and drink in moderation -- (one glass of wine or beer a day for women, two for men). Some people, especially pregnant women, and those who take certain medicines regularly, should avoid alcohol entirely.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on January 12, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "Cholesterol," "Alcohol, Wine and Cardiovascular Disease."

Foerster, M. The American Journal of Cardiology, Feb. 1, 2009.

Mukamal, K. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2006.

Di Castelnuovo, A. Archives of Internal Medicine, Dec. 11-25, 2006.

Schroder, H. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 2005.

Van der Gaag, M. The Journal of Lipid Research, December 2001.

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