Can Drinking Beer Help Lower My Cholesterol?

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Beer is probably the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world. Although beer sometimes garners a bad reputation due to its alcohol content, it also contains a few surprisingly healthy ingredients. Barley, one such ingredient that is used to make beer, contains polyphenols, which have been linked to lowering cholesterol levels and promoting heart health. There are also some studies suggesting that alcoholic beverages such as beer may also be able to improve heart health in modest amounts.

But can drinking beer also lower your cholesterol levels?

Studies Examining Beer’s Effect on Lipids

There are not a lot of studies solely looking at how beer can affect your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Most studies look at all types of alcoholic beverages and their effect on cholesterol, triglycerides, and heart health as a whole. Studies have examined the consumption of beer products on lipids in amounts ranging from 60 to 340 mL daily from anywhere between 4 and 6 weeks on average. It was found that, in some studies, individuals drinking at least one beer beverage saw an increase in HDL cholesterol levels by up to 11%. Additionally, LDL levels in some studies were lowered by up to 18%. Some studies did not see a significant decrease in LDL. The mechanism by which this occurs is not fully known. In these studies, the type or brand of beer was not usually noted.

One study also showed that one beer (about 340 mL) daily could reduce oxidation of LDL.

However, consumption of three or more beers daily actually promoted LDL oxidation. Studies have shown that oxidized LDL can promote inflammation of the inner lining of blood vessels and contribute to the formation of atherosclerosis – leading to the development of cardiovascular disease. Although there were some positive effects noted from drinking beer and other types of alcohol, there were also some negative effects: elevated triglyceride levels were also noted as consumption of beer increased.

Having very high triglyceride levels is another risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease.

The Bottom Line

Although one beer a day appears to improve your lipid profile and lower oxidation of LDL in some cases, drinking three or more beers may adversely affect your lipid profile, heart health and increase your risk of getting certain diseases, such as certain cancers, high blood pressure, and having a stoke. This trend has also been noted with other types of alcohol. Therefore, it is recommended that you do not drink too much beer – or any alcoholic beverage for that matter – if you are concerned about your heart health.

The American Heart Association recommends that if you do drink alcohol, you should only drink one to two 12 ounce servings of beer daily if you are a man, and 12 ounces of beer a day if you are a woman. Twelve ounces roughly equals 350 mL of beer. If you do not typically drink, the American Heart Association cautions that you should not start drinking beer – or any other alcohol - solely for the purpose of improving your heart heath.

Sources:

Prickett CD, Lister E, Collins M et al. Alcohol: friend or foe? Alcoholic beverages hormesis for cataract and atherosclerosis is related to plasma antioxidant activity. Nonlinear Biol Toxicol Med 2004; 2:353-370.

Alcohol & Heart Health. The American Heart Association. Website: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Alcohol-and-Heart-Disease_UCM_305173_Article.jsp#.VjTTP2tpubV. Accessed 29 October 2015.

Arranz S, Chiva- Blanch G, Valderas- Martinez P et al. Wine, beer, alcohol, and polyphenols on cardiovascular disease and cancer. Nutrients 2012; 4:759-781.

Foerster, M.; Marques-Vidal, P.; Gmel, G.; et al. Alcohol drinking and cardiovascular risk in a population with high mean alcohol consumption. Am. J. Cardiol. 2009, 103, 361–368.

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