(LifeWire) - Alcohol effects on health come in many different forms. It can cause addiction and liver disease if taken chronically, but it can also lower cholesterol and heart disease risk if taken in moderation.
Most of the time, alcohol gets a bad rap. Most research indicates, though, that alcohol can actually be good for cardiovascular health, including your cholesterol levels. The key, however, is moderation — and the definition of moderation may surprise you.
How Does Alcohol Affect Cholesterol?
Consuming moderate amounts of alcohol has been shown to be beneficial for your heart and your cholesterol levels. Alcohol increases HDL (high-density lipoprotein), the so-called “good cholesterol." HDL goes through the body and picks up unnecessary deposits of cholesterol. Its counterpart, LDL (low-density lipoprotein), the "bad cholesterol," travels through the body depositing cholesterol. Unfortunately, alcohol has not been shown to either decrease LDL cholesterol levels or to lower total cholesterol levels — two things many people want to do.
Studies do indicate, however, that a moderate amount of alcohol benefits your heart because of the increase in HDL. Anything beyond the standard definition of “moderation,” however, is considered detrimental to heart health, and alcoholic beverages are usually high in calories, which can lead to unwanted weight gain. Those extra pounds can increase your risk of diabetes and stroke. In addition, overconsumption has been connected to liver disease and even damaged heart muscle.
So What Is "Moderation"?
According to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the “lowest coronary heart disease mortality occurs at an intake of one or two drinks per day.” A drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, 1 ounce of 100-proof liquor or 4 ounces of wine.
Keep in mind that you do not increase your heart health by increasing your consumption beyond the one to two drinks a day. Binge drinking on a Saturday night is not healthy and will not result in cardiovascular benefit — even if you haven’t consumed alcohol throughout the rest of the week.
Does the Type of Alcohol Make a Difference?
When it comes to cholesterol levels, research indicates that you may want to pass on the beer in favor of a glass of wine.
Wine, particularly red wine, contains antioxidants called "flavonoids." These compounds have been linked to a beneficial impact on cholesterol levels and overall heart health. According to a 2005 study, people who consumed wine in moderation saw an 11 to16% increase in heart-healthy HDL. The study again, though, found no significant effect of wine consumption on LDL, total cholesterol or triglyceride levels. Although not as beneficial as wine, in moderation, beer and liquor also have positive impacts on HDL levels.
A French study found that beer and liquor lowered triglyceride levels and increased HDL levels, although not to the same degree as wine.
Should I Start Drinking?
Not necessarily, according to the American Heart Association. If you or a loved one has elevated cholesterol levels, you’ll likely see more benefit from beginning an exercise program or making dietary changes. Even in moderation, drinking can raise your blood pressure, and it has been linked to several types of cancer.
If you have high cholesterol and you have been wondering whether a glass of wine or beer would be harmful, though, you can relax. Relaxation is key, because an American Psychological Association study found that stress can raise cholesterol levels as well.
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