Alcohol & Cholesterol Levels

Drinking a glass or two of alcohol daily raises people's good blood cholesterol levels, but numerous medical organizations do not recommend consuming liquor because it can lead to heavy drinking, which can ultimately have a negative impact on health. The Mayo Clinic reports that exercising regularly, losing weight, quitting smoking and eating fewer saturated fats are better ways of raising good cholesterol than drinking.

A woman is holding a glass of red wine. (Image: Monkey Business Images/Monkey Business/Getty Images)

The Importance of Cholesterol

The risk of cardiovascular disease increases when total cholesterol and bad (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels increase and good (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels decrease, according to "Controlling Cholesterol." Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a nationally-known heart expert and the author of "Controlling Cholesterol," recommends that you strive to have a total cholesterol level below 200 mg per dL, a bad cholesterol level below 130 and a good cholesterol level above 40 if you're a man and above 50 if you're a woman.

Alcohol Raises Good Cholesterol

"Controlling Cholesterol" reports that studies by Harvard (Mass.) Medical School, the Veterans Administration, Albany (N.Y.) Medical College and health-related groups in England and New Zealand show that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol every day increases the level of protective HDL cholesterol. Moderate drinking is considered one or two drinks daily for men, only one for women because their bodies produce less gastric alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme that breaks down alcohol.

Details of Alcohol/HDL Studies

The studies linking alcohol to better HDL cholesterol levels show that wine, beer and liquor (gin, rum, vodka and whiskey) all have the same effect. In the Veterans Administration study, 630 calories of alcohol daily increased HDL cholesterol levels from an average of 34.8 mg per dL to 40.2 mg per dL. The Harvard study concluded that 2 oz. of alcohol daily is "inversely correlated with death from coronary heart disease."

Two Kinds of Good Cholesterol

The impact of raising HDL cholesterol levels is uncertain, according to "Controlling Cholesterol" and "The 8-Week Cholesterol Cure." HDL cholesterol has two components: HDL-2 cholesterol and HDL-3 cholesterol. HDL-2 cholesterol combats heart disease, but HDL-3 cholesterol does not. Some studies show that alcohol increases HDL-2 and HDL-3 levels, but other studies show that only HDL-3 levels increase, reports "Controlling Cholesterol."

Impact on the Heart

Several medical organizations that have reported alcohol's positive effect on HDL cholesterol, including the Mayo Clinic, urge people not to drink because even moderate drinking has a negative impact on the heart. According to "Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease," moderate drinking has a "toxic effect on the muscle of heart" and causes an irregular heartbeat condition called alcohol cardiomyopathy.

Two Drinks Per Day

Several health organizations caution against moderate drinking because it often also leads to heavier drinking. Two glasses of alcohol daily increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart muscle weakness and other heart and circulatory problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. It also doubles the risk of hemorrhagic stroke and bleeding in the brain, reports Ornish.

Heavy Drinking

Most medical organizations oppose drinking despite its effect on good cholesterol because it can be addictive and addictions can kill. Heavy drinking is "linked to" cirrhosis, fetal alcohol syndrome, hypertension, malnutrition and pancreatitis, writes Ornish. It also increases breast cancer risks by 18 to 45 percent in women who drink three to six glasses of alcohol daily, reports the Mayo Clinic.

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