Nutrition Articles

The Truth about Alcohol and Heart Health

Is Drinking Actually Good for You?

The idea that alcohol may be good for your heart has been around for a while. While moderate drinking may offer health benefits, drinking more can cause a host of health problems. So should you turn to alcohol to protect your heart? Here's what you need to know, from what alcohol can really do, to how much you should drink, to which types of drinks—if any—are healthier than others. Use this information in conjunction with your healthcare provider's advice.

Research on Alcohol and Heart Disease
In several studies of diverse populations, moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with a reduced risk for certain cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary heart disease. These studies were observational—not experimental—and therefore had some limitations. However, they showed the need for experimental studies regarding alcohol intake and heart disease. So in 1999, a meta-analysis was conducted on all experimental studies to date to assess the effects of moderate alcohol intake on various health measures (such as HDL "good" cholesterol levels and triglycerides), and other biological markers associated with risk of coronary heart disease. As research on this topic continued to expand, researchers conducted another systematic review of 63 studies that examined adults without known cardiovascular disease before and after alcohol use. This latest meta-analysis was published in a 2011 issue of the British Medical Journal (get a link to the full report in the Sources section below).

The analysis of these numerous studies suggests that moderate alcohol consumption (defined below) helps to protect against heart disease by:
  • Raising HDL "good" cholesterol
  • Increasing apolipoprotein A1, a protein that has a specific role in lipid (fat) metabolism and is a major component of HDL "good" cholesterol
  • Decreasing fibrinogen, a soluble plasma glycoprotein that is a part of blood clot formation
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Reducing plaque accumulation in the arteries
  • Decreasing the clumping of platelets and the formation of blood clots
However, these studies did not show any relationship between moderate alcohol intake and total cholesterol level or LDL "bad" cholesterol. And while some studies associated alcohol intake to increased triglycerides, the most recent analysis of moderate alcohol intake in healthy adults showed no such relationship.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • I don't like the taste of wine so I will stick to eating grapes and drinking grape juice. I am really glad that I don't like wine because I would have become addicted and that would not have been good. Fear of becoming an alcoholic is why I don't drink any liquor. I like some alcohols like rum,gin and grain alcohol and could see myself becoming an alcoholic very easily had I not chose to stop drinking totally. - 2/24/2015 9:49:03 AM
  • FIFFER88
    I would say that there are other more recent studies that would confirm red wine to possess beneficial properties in helping to increase heart health and decrease the probability of heart disease. For instance, one of its properties includes the molecule resveratrol, a compound found in grapes. However, resveratrol is most potent in red wine as in the wine-making process, the presence of this molecule is condensed. Therefore, red wine aids in cardio protection and also reduces the effects of oxidative stress. If you have access to a public or university library, here is a peer-reviewed source which can lead you to further studies recently conducted on the subject. Cheers!

    Netticadan, T. (2012). Why research on resveratrol-media
    ted cardioprotection should not decelerate. Canadian Journal Of Physiology & Pharmacology, 90(5), iii-vi. doi:10.1139/y2012
    - 2/21/2015 2:56:56 PM
  • My gods, what a mess of judgmental, uninformed comments here! Nowhere did the article state that you must get raging drunk every night to reap the benefits of alcohol - benefits which are, despite what some of you want to believe, well-documented and supported. Binge drinking is not good. You won't see your health improve if you're pounding Red Bull and vodka. But a glass or two of wine a week IS good. I've seen it myself. There is a world of difference between someone who drinks two glasses of wine a week for relaxation and some antioxidants, and an alcoholic. I feel like I lost 20 IQ points reading some of these comments. - 10/23/2014 9:36:30 AM
  • For me, having 'functional' alcoholic parents, my brother and I have somewhat grown up saying that would never be us.
    The thing for me, is that as a teenager, I always did what I was told to not do. I found myself liking the taste of liquor.
    No, I never drove while intoxicated, (only 1 dui).
    Long story short, I have been alcohol free for almost 6 years.
    It's hard when you prefer for the individual to have that bottle, because without it there mood and attitude is horrible. - 12/15/2013 9:47:26 AM
  • First of all (after reading all of the comments) this article is JUST informational (it is not implying or pushing that you must drink one drink a day!) for those of you who choose not to wasn't a message to you saying that you should or you need to drink one drink a day. Lighten up!
    Now for those of us who enjoy a glass of wine every now and again. I enjoyed this article. Do I think drinking is healthy? NO! Will I still have my glass of wine every now and again...yes!

    Oh my an article can send people into an uproar. It is just an article...simply that. - 11/6/2013 2:15:30 PM
  • Ive heard this almost my whole life and always wondered about it. Id always heard Italians drink wine everyday and have much lower rates of heart problems, but they also cook with olive oil, eat alot of seafood, fresh produce, and eat less refined grains lol.

    I think its obvious that alcohol does have many benefits in terms of personal health namely occasional stress relief, but there are definitely healthier and safer ways to increase your heart health than drinking alcohol. Anything can become an addiction if you use it as a cure for something, be it alcohol, food, video games, or even exercise. - 10/4/2013 11:04:21 AM
  • Food for thought. Thanks for sharing. - 6/22/2013 7:27:16 AM
    The study I'd like to see, and probably much more to the point, would compare drinking red wine with eating concord, red, or other grapes. I'll bet it would show that you can get all same antioxidants, plus many other healthy substances (such as phytonutrients) that are destroyed by the sterilization, fermentation, and pasteurization that wine undergoes, in an inexpensive and healthy package.
    I think I'll stick to bread sauerkraut, and miso for my fermented foods. - 9/18/2012 3:58:18 PM
  • As a physiologist, we talk a lot about this in my field. We concern ourselves with heart health primarily. The benefits of ONE drink seem to diminish any possible negative effects. What seems most important is to be an informed consumer, as we should with anything, and do what seems right for us and our bodies and being an adovate in our own health. ONE drink is also great for stress reduction and promoting relaxation, all of which also promote better immunity and counteract dangerous side effects of stress-related illnesses. Just some food (or drink) for thought! - 9/18/2012 1:19:20 PM
    Alcohol also increases Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. There are many internet articles supporting this statement. - 9/18/2012 5:41:19 AM
    Very timely article with a good message. - 9/18/2012 1:47:48 AM
    It makes me crazy that people still push alcohol. In my family there is a history of cancer and alcoholism. The American Cancer Society begs people to completely avoid alcohol as it increases various cancers tremendously (especially breast cancer). And any family that has dealt with alcoholism knows how completely destructive it is. I would personally rather die of a heart attack. There are plenty of other ways to improve your heart health that have no ill side-effects, and I would highly recommend trying out those avenues first. - 9/18/2012 12:34:55 AM
  • In my family is a history of cancer. My two grandmas died of breast cancer, two aunts with mastectomy and I'm waiting for the surgeon. Never drinks. - 8/20/2012 10:42:54 PM
  • hmm.. now I don't usually drink, but my DOCTOR actually recommend me have one glass of red wine a day to lower my blood pressure, help with my anxiety, help with the heart diease that runs in my family, and lower your risk of alzheimers as well. But of course anything in moderation and like the article said heavy drinking and binge drinking can cause more problems then this can help, but one glass of red wine a day seems to have been helping with my blood pressure, anxiety and chlorestrol over the last year. - 10/30/2011 8:39:39 PM
    There's a family history of breast cancer, so I don't drink. - 10/30/2011 10:18:47 AM

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