Beer me: Can booze help heart health?

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Photo of people drinking beer.Study shows alcohol may have cholesterol benefits

Moderate drinkers could experience some heart health benefits from having a daily brewski.

A new American Heart Association study suggests drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may slow the decline of a protector of your heart—good cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

Caitlin Giesler, MD, is a cardiologist at Ascension Seton Heart Institute, part of Ascension, the nation’s largest nonprofit health system and the world’s largest Catholic health system. Giesler said the study helps explain why people may experience a benefit from moderately drinking alcohol.

“HDL is the ‘good’ cholesterol that protects against heart disease. It tends to decrease over a person’s lifetime so the protection is lost,” Giesler said. “If moderate drinking may prevent some of that decline, it could explain why there can be some benefit to alcohol intake as far as heart health. We know that moderate drinking does possibly correlate with reduced risk of heart disease. The mechanism is not totally understood but this study may explain why that is.”

The study grouped the 80,000 adult Chinese participants by how much they reported drinking, from never to more than one serving daily for women and more than two daily for men. Findings showed:

  • All participants experienced a decrease of HDL over time.
  • Moderate drinkers had the slowest decline.
  • Heavy drinkers had very little HDL benefit.

Drinking moderately

The American Heart Association recommends limiting alcohol intake to one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. One drink is equivalent to one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. wine or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits.

Dangers of drinking too much include alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, suicide and accidents. So it is important to be careful about how much alcohol you consume.

What kinds of alcohol have cardiovascular benefits?

Booze benefits do depend on the type you like to drink, according to the study.

Research showed the most benefit of an HDL slow decline with moderate beer drinking. Hard liquor drinkers did not have as much of a benefit and there weren’t enough wine drinkers to test wine’s effects on HDL.

Giesler said if you’re already a drinker, then moderate alcohol intake is OK, but do not start drinking just to have heart benefits. Some of the best practices for optimal heart health include drinking a lot of water and following diet with fruits, veggies and lean meats, she said.

What about red wine?

Because wine can help you wind down and lower stress levels, heart experts say a glass of vino can be good.

Research has shown that wine may contribute to lower death rates from heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. But the benefits shown in many of these studies may be because of good lifestyle habits like increased physical activity and a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats.

The American Heart Association says no direct comparison studies have been done to determine the effect of wine or other alcohol on the risk of developing heart disease or stroke.