The truth about alcohol and your heart
Alcohol. Is it good for you or not?
In a recent study presented at the American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans, researchers found that alcohol can help with heart health by keeping good cholesterol levels, called HDL, higher as you age.
In a six-year study, more than 80,000 healthy Chinese adults answered questions about the frequency and amount of their drinking. In addition, study participants gave blood for analysis so researchers could measure their HDL levels, which tend to decline as people age. They gave blood a total of four times.
They found that women who reported having one serving of alcohol per day and men who reported having two daily servings (the amount recommended by the American Heart Association) had the smallest decline in HDL levels during the study period. The participants who did not drink or drank at levels above moderation had a greater decline in HDL levels.
“In moderation, most forms of alcohol can raise HDL cholesterol level,” says Dr. Marc Silver, a cardiologist and founder of the heart failure program at the Advocate Heart Institute at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill.
He explains that there are two main types of cholesterol–LDL and HDL. LDL makes plaque, which can clog arteries, keeping the blood from flowing properly, leading to heart attacks and other heart disease. HDL, on the other hand, removes cholesterol from the blood vessels to prevent plaque from forming.
“HDL levels have been shown to be a strong predictor of future vascular disease or health,” says Dr. Silver.
So what kind of alcohol offers this benefit?
Shue Huang, the study author from Pennsylvania State University, says that the participants drank mostly beer or spirits. But Dr. Silver says that past studies have indicated that many different types of alcoholic beverages appear to have the same beneficial effects, including wine.
Dr. Silver cautions that drinking beyond moderation, even sporadically, is unhealthy. “There are downsides to alcohol that can do damage that far outweighs any benefit. If you don’t drink, there is no reason to start — exercise is another powerful way to raise HDL. And, even if you do drink, you should still exercise for added health benefits.”
So raise a glass and toast to heart health. But remember, the size of the glass does not a serving make. A serving for most wine is 5 ounces, a serving of beer is 12 ounces and a serving of 80-proof spirits is 1.5 ounces.
And, never drink and drive.
About the Author
Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”