Moderate alcohol consumption, especially in the form of red wine, is a well-researched way to lower cholesterol naturally. If consumed regularly in light-to-moderate amounts, red wine is well known to decrease the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other dire consequences of cardiovascular disease. One of the primary ways red wine decreases the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease is by improving cholesterol. Red wine affects cholesterol in the following ways:
- Increase HDL. Drinking one or two glasses of red wine a day increases “good” HDL cholesterol . Increasing HDL helps lower the risk of heart disease because the HDL binds with cholesterol in the body’s tissues to escort it out of the body and removes fatty deposits in the walls of large blood vessels. A study in 45 postmenopausal women with high cholesterol found that 13.5 ounces (400 mL) per day of red wine for 6 weeks reduced fasting LDL cholesterol concentrations by 8% and increased HDL cholesterol concentrations by 17%.
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- Decrease LDL. Moderate red wine consumption lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol. Researchers from the University of Bourgogne in Dijon, France recently tested the effect of red wine on cholesterol levels in patients recently hospitalized after myocardial infarction. For a 2-week period, half the patients received 8.5 ounces (250 mL) of red wine daily while the other half received water along with a Mediterranean-style diet. Even in this relatively short amount of time, both total and LDL cholesterol levels significantly decreased in the red wine group but not the water group. Antioxidant status of those in the red wine group also increased substantially.
- Increase size of LDL particles and decrease oxidized LDL. In addition to lowering LDL and increasing HDL cholesterol, red wine has been found to increase the size of LDL and decrease its oxidation.[3,4] Both the size of LDL and its oxidation with free radicals are important factors in the development of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis— the formation of plaques in arterial walls— is the main underlying cause of heart attacks and strokes. The detection of small-sized or oxidized LDL particles in the bloodstream is correlated with greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Decrease lipoprotein (a). Red wine consumption has been found to lower lipoprotein (a). Lipoprotein (a) is very dangerous cholesterol-like particle which is considered highly likely to penetrate the blood vessel wall and lead to plaque formation, causing atherosclerosis. A study in the UK comparing red wine to white wine in healthy volunteers found that 10 days of 6.8 ounces (200 mL) red wine not only significantly lowered LDL cholesterol and reduced the size of LDL, but the short intervention with red wine also dramatically lowered lipoprotein (a) levels.
- Decrease inflammation (CRP). Red wine also lowers C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of chronic, low-grade, body-wide inflammation. High CRP levels are strongly correlated with cardiovascular disease and other diseases related to chronic inflammation. Inflammation, like oxidative stress, is another key factor involved in the formation of arterial plaques and the development of atherosclerosis. People who have high LDL or low HDL along with high levels of inflammation as measured by CPR are known to be at significantly greater risk of heart disease. One study in healthy women found that CRP levels decreased more than 25% after drinking 3.4 ounces (100 mL) of red wine twice a day for 4 weeks. The women’s HDL cholesterol also increased significantly.
How to naturally lower cholesterol with red wine
Regularly drinking a moderate amount of red wine is an excellent way to improve your cardiovascular health by lowering your LDL cholesterol, raising your HDL, decreasing oxidized LDL, and decreasing chronic inflammation. To get the advantages of red wine for cholesterol, men should drink about 2 servings and women should drink about one serving most days of the week, with meals (the exact amounts varied among studies). And you don’t need to worry too much about the quality or variety of red wine you drink. Hundreds of different wines have been used in studies, and all seem to lower cholesterol. If there are subtle differences among the cholesterol-lowering effects of different red wines, at this point, it is not clear which variety of wine might work best. One thing that is clear, however, is that drinking red wine in combination with a healthy diet and other natural cholesterol lowering therapies, including other cholesterol-lowering foods and supplements, can lead to even greater reductions in cholesterol.
Originally published in 2013, this post has been updated.