Q: Is it true that wine lowers your bad cholesterol?
A: First of all, what is "bad" cholesterol? The term refers to low density lipids (LDL) found in the bloodstream. High levels of LDL can contribute to atherosclerosis—the hardening and narrowing of arteries due to plaque deposit—which can lead to heart disease.
In clinical studies, some foods and drinks, especially wine, have been shown to lower LDL. But according to Miriam Pappo, a registered dietician and director of Clinical Nutrition at Montefiore Medical Center, "There is conflicting evidence on this. Antioxidants in general have been shown to lower bad cholesterol and increase HDL," also known as "good" cholesterol. She continued, "The antioxidant resveratrol, found in wine, might be the key ingredient in wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduce bad cholesterol or LDL, and increase good cholesterol HDL." Much resveratrol research, however, has been performed on animals and in larger doses than would be found in normal wine consumption.
Pappo pointed out that several major studies on this topic have produced different results. The 2005 "French Paradox" study showed that alcohol found in red wine increased HDL but did not decrease LDL. Researchers in Madrid, meanwhile, found that red wine could lower LDL levels by 9 percent in healthy people and by 12 percent in less-healthy people.
"The key is moderation of one to two drinks a day, at most, along with a healthy balanced diet and exercise," cautioned Pappo. "Three or more drinks per day can result in elevated serum triglycerides," that is, fat in the bloodstream.
Have a question about wine and healthy living? E-mail us.