Alcohol and Heart Health

Researchers first reported this correlation between alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disease as early as 1904 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. But because alcoholism has been a long-standing problem in the United States, experts are reticent to wholeheartedly endorse raising a glass or two for your heart’s sake.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of preventable death among Americans and has been linked to sudden cardiac death, heart arrhythmia, cardiac myopathy, as well other several other cardiovascular problems. That said, it’s understandable that many health associations, including the American Heart Association, suggest that if you’ve never had a drink before, then there’s no reason to start now. However, if your personal or family history is free from alcohol abuse and you have no problem drinking moderately—for women that means one drink a day, for men two—then here are some ways a little alcohol can give your heart a boost.

Red wine is rich in the antioxidant resveratrol. A nonflavenoid antioxidant found in the skin and seeds of grapes, resveratrol is thought to protect the lining of blood vessels, reduce low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or bad cholesterol, and lower the likelihood of blood clots. Mice studies have also revealed that the compound prevents obesity and diabetes, but research is on-going and inconclusive concerning its effects on humans.

A libation or two a day can help thin the blood. After examining the blood of the test subjects enrolled in the Framingham Offspring Study, a long-term investigation of heart disease triggers, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston discovered that those who drank three to six alcoholic a week were less likely than heavy drinkers and teetotalers to have blood that easily clotted.

Moderate alcohol consumption raises levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), a.k.a. good cholesterol. Scientists started to investigate the French paradox—the fact that though the French tend consume food high in saturated fat, they’re less likely to suffer from heart disease—as early as 1819 with the work of Irish physician Samuel Black. Nearly two centuries of research has shown that a glass of wine or two a day keeps the cardiologist away. What’s the reason? Besides being chock-full of antioxidants, wine also contains ethanol; present in all form of alcohol, it can elevate HDL by as much as four milligrams per deciliter as well as promote the production of proteins that facilitate the metabolism of cholesterol.