Beer is one of the most consumed alcoholic beverages in Europe. Fortunately, beer itself does not contain any natural cholesterol. So there is something to be happy about, right? Not so fast. To help you take care of your heart, here are tips for managing high blood pressure, cholesterol, diet and more.
How beer affects cholesterol levels
Most cholesterol is made by your body, the rest comes from your diet. When your doctor talks about your cholesterol, what he really means is two types of cholesterol, HDL and LDL, and triglycerides, which are a type of fat. When we talk about total cholesterol, it’s a combination of HDL and LDL cholesterol plus triglycerides.
While a cold beer can boost your mood, beer increases triglyceride levels. In fact, beer contains carbohydrates and alcohol, two substances that rapidly raise triglycerides. And people who are more sensitive to the effects of beer may have even higher triglyceride levels. Since triglycerides are part of total cholesterol levels, this means that when your triglycerides rise, your total cholesterol also rises. Ideally, your triglyceride levels should be below 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).
Beer contains cholesterol-binding sterols
Beer is like “liquid bread” because it usually contains barley malt, yeast and hops. These substances all contain phytosterols, plant compounds that bind to cholesterol and help remove it from the body. Some phytosterols, also known as plant sterols, are added to foods and beverages and marketed as cholesterol-lowering foods. So if beer naturally contains these sterols, can beer lower your cholesterol? Unfortunately, not.
The sterols found in regular beer, sitosterol or ergosterol, are in such low concentrations that even a full beer contains too little to have any effect on lowering cholesterol levels. However, some research in mice has shown that moderate beer consumption can reduce both cholesterol levels in the liver and cholesterol deposits in the aorta (the body’s largest artery). Researchers in this study found that some unidentified components of beer may alter how lipoproteins are metabolized and reduce the risk of heart disease. But the nature of these components and how they work are not fully understood.
Is wine a better option?
We’ve all heard that a glass of red wine a day can be good for your health, but research suggests other forms of alcohol may be beneficial too.
Red wine has been the subject of many studies. In moderate amounts, it has been shown to reduce cancer, heart disease, depression, dementia and type 2 diabetes. Moderate beer consumption has also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cerebrovascular accidents.
Although beer contains some antioxidants like red wine, the specific antioxidants in barley and hops differ from those in grapes. It’s not yet known if the antioxidants in beer offer the same benefits as those in red wine, but preliminary research is promising. Overall, however, how often and how much you drink, rather than what you drink, seems to really affect your heart.
A large study showed that men who drank moderately (two drinks a day) had a 30-35% lower risk of heart attack than those who drank heavily. For women, moderate drinking counts as one drink a day. And men who drank every day had a lower risk than those who only drank once or twice a week. This includes men who drink wine, spirits, and of course, beer.
Beer and wine always in moderation
Drinking beer in moderation can have positive effects on your heart health. This may not apply to your cholesterol, however, since drinking beer can increase your triglyceride levels.
It’s also important to note that regular consumption of large amounts of alcohol can weaken your heart over time and lead to an inactive lifestyle, obesity, and alcoholism. All of these factors can cause health problems that would far outweigh any additional benefits. And remember, if you really want to improve your cholesterol levels, regular exercise and a diet low in sugar and alcohol are proven ways to do it.
Degrace P, et al. (2006). Moderate beer consumption reduces liver triglycerides and aortic cholesterol deposits in LDLr-/-apoB100/100 mice. DOI: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2006.01.012
Think MA. (2000). Nutritional and health benefits of beer. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11093684
Miura Y, et al. (2005). Dietary isohumulones, the bitter components of beer, increase plasma HDL-cholesterol and reduce hepatic cholesterol and triacylglycerol levels, similar to PPARalpha activations in C57BL/6 mice. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15946420
Muller R, et al. (2012). Does beer contain compounds that could disrupt cholesterol metabolism? DOI:
Mukamal KJ, et al. (2003). Roles of drinking behavior and type of alcohol consumed in male coronary artery disease. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa022095
* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace the advice of a doctor.
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