Alcohol is one of the most controversial topics in the world of healthy eating. Some studies indicate that drinking is good for you, while others point to the damage caused by drinking. On the “pros” side, you’ve got the antioxidant content, an improvement in circulation, and mood-boosting effects of certain alcohols. On the “cons” side, you’ve got the liver damage, increased calorie content, and metabolism-slowing effects. So which is it?
Well, it looks like we’ve got more information to add to the “pros” side: moderate drinking can slow the decline in “good” HDL cholesterol.
A team of researchers from the U.S. and China presented to the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2016 the findings of a study they conducted into the effects of alcohol on cholesterol. The study examined more than 80,000 Chinese adults (median age: 49). The researchers evaluated alcohol intake and categorized the participants in one of five groups: heavy, moderate, light, past, and never drinkers.
Moderate drinking (2 drinks per day for men 0.5 to 1 drinks per day for women) positively affected cholesterol level even without the use of cholesterol-lowering medications. The moderate drinkers experienced a slower decline in HDL cholesterol than their heavier-drinking counterparts.
But here’s the kicker: their HDL decline was also slower than the never-drinkers.
Among the moderate drinkers, beer had the greatest effect on preventing HDL cholesterol decline. Light and moderate drinkers also experienced positive effects after drinking hard alcohol. Not enough wine drinkers participated in the study to determine whether or not wine can affect cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol is responsible for removing LDL cholesterol (the “bad” stuff) from the arteries. It transports the LDL cholesterol to the liver to be broken down and eliminated. More HDL cholesterol is better for your heart health, as it prevents LDL cholesterol from building up and causing heart attacks and strokes.
As this study proved, a bit of drinking can do your heart good. Moderate drinking (1-2 drinks per day) is enough to keep your HDL cholesterol levels from declining. This essentially helps to keep your body in control of your cholesterol levels, enabling it to protect itself from cardiovascular disease.
Of course, further research is required in order to determine which alcohols are best for improving cholesterol levels. Scientists will also need to analyze the heart-smart benefits of alcohol in relation to its negative effects on the body. However, if you’re looking for a good way to improve your cholesterol levels, it may be a reason for you to crack open a beer or have a shot of your favorite liquor.
1. “Longitudinal study of alcohol consumption and high-density lipoprotein concentrations: A community-based study“. Shue Huang et al., presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2016, 12-16 November 2016.