The benefits of a glass of wine in warding off heart disease have been much discussed, but a new analysis indicates that some of those same benefits may be gleaned from a beer.
Researchers analyzed 16 studies involving more than 200,000 participants and found that the heart disease risk for moderate beer drinkers – those who drank about a pint a day – was reduced 31 percent on average.
"That's not surprising – they both have alcohol," said registered dietician Andrea Giancoli, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, who was not involved with the new study.
And, as in the case of wine consumption, the risk surged with an increase in alcohol intake.
"Alcohol in moderation can increase your HDL, your good cholesterol," Giancoli explained. "The higher your HDL is, the more protected you are against heart disease."
The researchers wrote in their findings that small amounts of alcohol also seem to have a beneficial effect on blood platelets and inflammation, among other health effects.
Toasting to your health
Drinking beer may even have some benefits wine does not, Giancoli said. Beer contains more water, and because some people feel bloated by drinking it, they may find it easier to moderate their alcohol intake.
The researchers also noted that heart benefits did not seem to extend to drinking spirits, although fewer statistics were available on that subject.
There is always the possibility that factors aside from the drinks are responsible for the benefits, the researchers conceded, but they said they attempted to control for these.
Stronger studies – such as randomized clinical trials – would be "ethically questionable" in studying alcohol consumption's effects, the researchers noted in their conclusion.
One possibility in wine studies, for example, is that wine drinkers are more likely to be following the Mediterranean diet, which also has been connected to better heart health. That diet involves eating vegetables, whole grains and olive oil, and relatively little red meat.
As with wine, picking up the habit of drinking a beer a day simply out of a desire to help your heart is not recommended, the researchers added.
Moderation remains important
Giancoli noted that research has suggested many people are unaware of the limit of "moderate drinking" – one glass for women and two for men on any day.
"You're kind of walking a tightrope, if you will, with alcohol," Giancoli said. "Once you go beyond moderation, you're potentially going to experience negative health effects," depending on how much you drink and for how long.
While people metabolize alcohol differently, "the general rule is, a drink a day is a healthy behavior; beyond that, you're increasing your risk for negative health effects," she said.
The study was published online Nov.15 in the European Journal of Epidemiology.
Pass it on: Drinking beer may help improve heart health.