Much of alcohol's benefit to heart health has to do with how it increases HDL "good" cholesterol levels. Here, we uncork the what, how, and how much of alcohol for heart health.
What’s your poison? At the right serving size, it may not be poison at all. While red wine is most closely tied to heart health, other types of alcohol can provide the same benefits.
The best-documented mechanism for alcohol’s preventive power, according to Cleveland Clinic heart specialists Steven Nissen, MD, and Marc Gillinov, MD, authors of HEART 411: The Only Guide to Heart Health You’ll Ever Need, is the way it changes cholesterol, specifically HDL, the “good” kind.
Drs. Nissen and Gillinov write that moderate alcohol consumption, defined as a drink per day for women and two per day for men, can raise HDL cholesterol by roughly 12 percent. An increase in of that level, they write, is similar to the effects of an aerobic exercise program.
So is a drink after work just as good for you as a trip to the gym? Maybe not exactly the same — but close enough to consider alcohol part of heart-healthy lifestyle, they say.
Additionally, alcohol blocks the oxidation of LDL, which prevents fatty plaques from forming in the arteries. Research shows that alcohol may also avert blood clotting (and the heart attacks they cause) by thinning the blood, and stopping platelets and certain proteins that cause the blood to clot.
Nissen and Gillinov both prefer red wine. They say their bias has more do to with taste, but studies point to red wine’s benefits over other types of alcohol: polyphenols. They're compounds with antioxidant properties that can prevent blood clots, too. You may have heard of the most-studied polyphenol, resveratrol.
If a rich cabernet or merlot isn’t your thing, sipping on white wine, beer, or other spirits at the same level of moderation can have similar effects on HDL cholesterol and blood clotting.
How Does Your Glass Measure Up?
Watch that heavy hand when pouring a drink. The amount of alcohol consumed is crucial to its benefits, so make sure you’re not exceeding the recommended amount. Nissen and Gillinov cite research that defines a single drink as: one and a half ounces of liquor, five ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer. They also point out that older drinkers may not be able to metabolize alcohol as well as someone in middle age. For people in their seventies and eighties, they advise no more than one drink per day.
How Exactly Does Alcohol Protect Your Heart? - High Cholesterol Center - Everyday Health
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