The Women's Health Resource. On the web since 1997.

Beer May Be Good for Cholesterol Levels (dateline December 8, 2002)

The belief that a glass of red wine a day protects the heart may also extend to a can of beer, according to the results of a newly published study. The small study found that moderate beer consumption increases levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease. This study’s positive results were far better than previous research which showed only a modest benefit to beer consumption. Before rushing out for beer though, researchers caution people to understand that the size of the current study is small and needs further confirmation.

High blood cholesterol can increase the chances for heart disease. While a total cholesterol level of over 240 mg/dL is considered high risk, higher levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol can actually protect the heart. HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, carries cholesterol away from the heart back to the liver where it is eventually removed from the body. High HDL cholesterol removes excess LDL ("bad") cholesterol from artery walls, reducing atherosclerosis (a narrowing of the arteries).

To investigate the effect of beer consumption on cholesterol, researchers analyzed the blood of nine women between the ages of 49 to 62 and 10 men between the ages 45 to 64 during a three-week period. Specifically, the researchers measured the amounts of HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein A-1, a protein component of HDL that carries cholesterol in the blood, during drinking and non-drinking phases of the study.

The result: HDL cholesterol levels rose by nearly 9% at the end of the drinking phase of the study, due to beer consumption. The researchers say this study may illustrate why men and post-menopausal women who consume moderate amounts of alcohol have a reduced risk of coronary artery disease,  compared to non-drinkers. During the three-week study period, men consumed an average of four glasses of beer while the women consumed an average of three glasses.

Beer alone cannot solve the problem of high cholesterol in the United States, though. In 2001, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommended that 36 million Americans be put on cholesterol-lowering drugs to help reduce the risk of heart disease (an estimated 13 million were currently taking them). According to NHBLI Director Dr. Claude Lenfant, studies show that lowering the level LDL ("bad" cholesterol) can reduce the short-term risk for heart disease by as much as 40%.

Total cholesterol (mg/dL) LDL cholesterol (mg/dL) HDL cholesterol (mg/dL)
Ideal: Less than 200 Borderline high risk: 200-239
High risk: 240 and over
Ideal: less than 130 Borderline high risk: 130-159
High risk: 160 or higher
Ideal: 60 or higher
High risk: lower than 40

*Source: American Heart Association

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States and in Europe. Approximately 12.8 million Americans suffer from coronary artery disease and nearly 500,000 Americans die from heart attacks caused by coronary artery disease each year. Over 12 million Americans have a history of heart attack, chest pain (angina), or both.

Additional Resources and References