Those fond of tipple may be dismayed, but the science on alcohol as an agent to promote heart health is just not definitive. "If you have heart disease, alcohol plays no role in your medicine cabinet; if [you do] not, alcohol is not the right way to reduce your risk," says Jonathan Whiteson, director of the Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Program at New York University Langone Medical Center. Some research has suggested that drinking red wine may increase one's HDL, or "good" cholesterol, but Whiteson notes that the boost is minimal. "Exercise [offers] a better increase in HDL," he says.
While he's not against a drink in a social setting, it's certainly not something folks—especially those with heart disease—should engage in with the idea that it will offer a heart benefit, says Whiteson. In fact, medications' effectiveness can be either hampered or heightened by alcohol, sometimes to a dangerous extent. (Common herbal supplements can interact with heart drugs, too). And drinking too much can lead to high blood pressure or increased blood levels of triglycerides, a type of fat.
Bottom line: The AHA suggests that otherwise healthy individuals who drink should do so in moderation. That's defined as one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. And be careful with that pour: The AHA defines a drink as one 12-ounce beer, a 4-ounce glass of wine, 1.5 ounce of 80-proof spirits, or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.