Beer is one of the most consumed alcoholic beverages in Europe. Fortunately, beer itself does not contain natural cholesterol. So there’s something to be happy about, right? Not so fast. To help you take care of your heart, here are tips on managing high blood pressure, cholesterol, nutrition, and more.
How Beer Affects Cholesterol
Most cholesterol is made by your body, the rest comes from your diet. When your doctor talks about your cholesterol, it really means two types of cholesterol, HDL and LDL, as well as triglycerides, which are a type of fat. When we talk about total cholesterol, it is a combination of HDL and LDL cholesterol plus triglycerides.
While a cold beer can lift your spirits, beer increases triglyceride levels. Indeed, beer contains carbohydrates and alcohol, two substances that quickly increase triglycerides. And people who are more sensitive to the effects of beer may experience even higher triglyceride levels. Since triglycerides are part of the total cholesterol level, this means that if your triglycerides go up, your total cholesterol goes up too. Ideally, your triglyceride level should be below 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
Beer contains cholesterol-related sterols
Beer is like “liquid bread” because it usually contains barley malt, yeast and hops. These substances all contain phytosterols, which are 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 has these sterols, can beer lower your cholesterol? Unfortunately no.
The sterols found in regular beer, sitosterol or ergosterol, are at such low levels that even a full beer contains too little to have any impact on lowering cholesterol. Some mouse research has suggested that reduced beer consumption can reduce both cholesterol in the liver and cholesterol deposition in the aorta (the body’s largest artery). Researchers in this study noted that some unidentified components of beer can alter how lipoproteins are metabolized and reduce the risk of heart disease. But the nature of these components and their mode of action 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 shows that other forms of alcohol can also be beneficial.
Red wine has been the subject of numerous 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 found in barley and hops are different from those found in wine 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, it’s how often and how much you drink, not what you drink, that really seems to affect your heart.
A large study showed that men who drank moderately (two glasses a day) were 30 to 35% less likely to have a heart attack than people who didn’t drink at all. as being one drink a day. And men who drank every day had a lower risk than those who drank only 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 beneficial effects on your heart health. But it may not raise your cholesterol, because drinking beer can raise your triglyceride levels.
Also, it is 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 create health issues that would far outweigh any additional benefits. And keep in mind that if you really want to improve your cholesterol levels, exercising regularly and following a diet low in simple sugars and alcohol are proven ways to achieve this.
Degrace P, et al. (2006). Moderate beer consumption reduces hepatic triglycerides and aortic cholesterol deposition in LDLr-/- apoB100/100 mice. DOI: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2006.01.012
Denke 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 levels and reduce liver cholesterol and triacylglycerol content similarly to PPARalpha activations in C57BL/6 mice. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15946420
Muller R, et al. (2012). Does beer contain compounds that may interfere with cholesterol metabolism? DO I:
Mukamal KJ, et al. (2003). Roles of drinking habits and type of alcohol consumed in coronary heart disease in men. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa022095