Tips For Lowering Cholesterol: The Effects Of Alcohol

A look at the effects of alcohol on cholesterol levels.

High cholesterol is a problem that affects millions of people. Although cholesterol is an essential part of the body (aiding in the structure and function of all the body's cells, as well as the production of certain hormones), too much cholesterol in the body can cause heart disease. For many people, lowering their cholesterol is simply a matter of increasing their activity level, losing some weight, and/or eating a healthy diet.

The effects of alcohol on cholesterol levels have been widely studied and it's been shown that alcohol can play a positive role in a cholesterol-wise diet. However, before you go grab a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine to drink as you read this in the hopes of quickly improving your cholesterol, it's important to understand exactly how alcohol affects cholesterol, and that too much of a good thing can lead to even bigger problems.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the bad cholesterol: As hard water leaves mineral deposits inside plumbing pipes, LDL cholesterol leaves fatty deposits on the insides of arteries, causing arteries to narrow, and increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the "good" cholesterol in our bodies. HDL helps clear excess cholesterol from the body, meaning there's less cholesterol to stick to arteries. In addition to an overall cholesterol level below 200 mg/dL, an LDL level of less than 100 mg/dL and an HDL level above 40 mg/dL are optimal.

Moderate consumption of alcohol does NOT in itself lower cholesterol levels, LDL or overall. Rather, it increases levels of HDL, the "good" cholesterol, which helps wash out all the extra cholesterol in the blood. All alcohol contains substances that inhibit the platelets in the blood from sticking together, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by preventing the formation of blood clots in the arteries. Additionally, red wine contains antioxidants and flavonoids, which further protect the heart. Red wine has been shown to have a greater effect on the prevention of heart disease than any other type of alcohol. It's assumed that this is the cause for the "French Paradox": In France, the consumption of red wine is much greater than what it is in the United States, and the death rate from heart disease in France is half of what it is in the United States.

For moderate drinkers, this is a nice benefit to that glass of wine after work, or that beer while watching the game. However, this is not a case of "more is better". The health benefits of alcohol have been shown to be greatest in moderate alcohol consumption, which is defined as 1-2 drinks daily for men and 1 drink daily for women. Excessive alcohol intake (which is anything over the moderate level) negates the health benefits of moderate intake by causing other, more ominous effects: high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, stroke, enlargement of the heart, and even sudden cardiac death.

Although there are definite benefits of moderate drinking, the American Heart Association recommends that nondrinkers do not start drinking just to reap the health benefits of alcohol. There are many other ways to naturally increase HDL cholesterol levels, including moderate exercise, weight loss, and a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.

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