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Can Wine Affect Your Cholesterol?

Drinking a glass or two of red wine each day may help lower your heart disease risk, according to a study published in "Seminars in Thrombosis and Hemostasis" in 2010. The evidence is still conflicting, however, of the effects of wine on cholesterol levels and whether wine has any increased heart-health benefits compared to other forms of alcohol. Experts don't recommend starting to drink wine if you currently abstain from alcohol, as more evidence is needed on the risks versus the benefits.

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Effect on Cholesterol Levels

Studies on wine and cholesterol levels haven't all shown the same beneficial effects 1. Moderate alcohol consumption may increase beneficial high-density lipoprotein levels by up to 17 percent and decrease unhealthy low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, levels by up to 8 percent, according to a study published in "Atherosclerosis" in April 2006. Some other studies, including one published in the "European Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in 2005, have found that red wine increases HDL levels but doesn't have a significant effect on LDL levels 4. Increasing HDL levels may still help lower heart disease risk, however, even without a decrease in LDL levels.

Cholesterol Absorption

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Red wine appears to limit the amount of cholesterol your cells absorb by up to 66 percent, according to a study published in "Nutrition Research" in December 2008. If your cells don't take in the cholesterol, it can't be stored in the body. This unabsorbed cholesterol may then be removed from your body, helping to lower your heart disease risk.

Active Ingredients

Antioxidants in red wine, called polyphenols, may be responsible for some of the beneficial effects of wine, including limiting the absorption of cholesterol, according to the "Nutrition Research" study. The "European Journal of Clinical Nutrition" study authors note that the beneficial effects of wine on HDL cholesterol appear to be due mainly to its alcohol content because water with red grape extract containing polyphenols didn't increase HDL levels the way wine itself did 4.

Differential Effects

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Drinking red wine may not cause the same improvements in cholesterol levels in everybody. A study published in "Clinics" in May 2009 found that while people with normal cholesterol experienced increases in beneficial HDL cholesterol levels after consuming about 8.5 ounces of wine per day for 15 days, people with high blood pressure or high cholesterol didn't experience this benefit.