Medically Reviewed by Vincenta Faulkner, RD, CNSC, CCTD
Alcohol is often used as a stress reliever, whether you like to kick back with a drink to relax after a long day of work or get together with friends to share in good conversation over drinks.
However, regardless of whether you like to use alcohol to relax or socialize, excessive consumption may adversely affect your health, including your heart.
Can alcohol raise your cholesterol? If so, by how much, and in what way? The relationship between alcohol consumption and cholesterol can be confusing, but we are here to bring you some clarity.
Here, Zizi discusses whether or not alcohol can raise your cholesterol levels, particularly your LDL levels.
How Will Alcohol Affect My LDL Cholesterol Levels?
Too much cholesterol in your blood can combine with other substances, creating plaque that can deposit on your artery walls. This type of plaque-forming cholesterol is known as LDL cholesterol. Often dubbed “bad” cholesterol, LDL cholesterol has the potential to stick to your artery walls. Once this occurs, it creates the potential for arterial blockages that could result in a heart attack.
When you drink alcohol, most of it makes its way to your liver once it enters your body. Your liver breaks down alcohol into triglycerides and cholesterol, which helps explain why excess alcohol consumption can lead to both elevated cholesterol and elevated triglyceride levels.
Elevated LDL Levels
Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with elevated LDL cholesterol levels, which are associated with health risks.
Your liver breaks down alcohol into cholesterol and triglycerides, meaning that when you consume alcohol, you end up with higher levels of both of these substances. The ultimate increase in the triglycerides in your bloodstream can make it difficult for your liver to adequately remove them.
The triglyceride backup in your liver can eventually cause them to build up and accumulate, which can cause fatty liver disease.
Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty liver disease prevents your liver from adequately functioning. Because your liver does not work as well in this instance, it does not remove cholesterol from your bloodstream as effectively, which means that an increase in triglyceride levels due to alcohol consumption further causes an increase in cholesterol levels in your bloodstream.
This is why you should avoid excess alcohol consumption — the increase in cholesterol levels that can occur when you drink too much puts you at a greater risk for heart disease.
Should I Stop Drinking Alcohol If My Cholesterol Levels Are High?
Now that you know the dangers associated with excess alcohol consumption when it comes to your heart health, you are probably wondering what constitutes excess consumption.
How much is too much alcohol? You might want the answer to this question so that you know ahead of time to prevent your levels from rising, or maybe your levels are already high. Does that mean you should cut alcohol out of your diet completely?
The answer is that while there is most certainly such a thing as too much alcohol, or a definable excess amount, you typically do not need to completely cut alcohol out of your diet in order to target high cholesterol levels.
Drinking in Moderation
The guidelines for drinking in moderation depend on whether you are biologically a female or male.
Males and females have different levels of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which is the enzyme responsible for alcohol breakdown.
As such, biological females are generally more sensitive to alcohol's effects, and drinking in moderation means partaking in no more than one glass of beer or wine a day.
Because biological males have slightly higher levels of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, you may partake in two drinks or less a day to constitute moderation and avoid excess.
Obviously, if you are at a social gathering, you might have more than one or two drinks that day. However, as long as this is not a regular occurrence, you can typically safely enjoy a few more drinks than usual every once in a while.
Just make sure that you still watch your consumption and avoid excess, even on special occasions.
Should I Cut Alcohol Out Completely?
With this in mind, and as long as you drink in moderation, not exceeding one or two glasses a day in general, you should not need to cut alcohol completely out of your diet if you have high cholesterol.
Keep in mind that alcohol is often high in sugar and calories. If you are trying to lose weight to lower your cholesterol, it might not be a bad idea to only drink alcohol on special occasions or to only drink once or twice a week to limit your consumption.
What Are Some Strategies To Reduce Alcohol Consumption?
It might be a good idea to spread your alcohol consumption more widely across the week. Instead of having one or two drinks a day to stay within moderation, consider having specific alcohol-free days during the week to get you accustomed to spending more time sober.
Additionally, each time you have a drink, try to be more conscious when it comes to size and amount. Choose smaller glass sizes, and choose drinks with lower alcohol percentage by volume. Consider lighter options, such as seltzers, as opposed to wine or hard liquor.
You can also try to pace yourself more or set goals such as that you will only have a drink or two at dinner, or you will add more water or ice to your drink next time.
Is Any Form of Alcohol Beneficial?
Believe it or not, alcohol may not be all bad for your heart health, especially when you drink in moderation. In fact, some studies even suggest that those who drink in moderation have lower rates of heart disease and live longer than those who do not drink alcohol at all.
This could be because alcohol has the ability to increase all types of cholesterol in your bloodstream, which not only means the bad LDL type but also the good HDL kind.
Certain types of alcohol may help increase your HDL levels, which helps lower your risk for heart disease by working to prevent plaque from depositing on your artery walls.
HDL cholesterol helps pick up any excess LDL cholesterol and take it to your liver. Your liver either recycles or removes this cholesterol before it can make its way to your arteries to galvanize atherosclerosis.
Red wine, in particular, might be the best alcoholic beverage that raises your good cholesterol levels, thanks to its higher amounts of certain plant-derived chemicals that may help protect your artery walls.
Do the Benefits Outweigh the Cost?
If you were to only listen to the principle that alcohol in moderation is good for you and started to consume a lot of alcohol, your HDL levels would not be the only type of cholesterol your drink choices affect.
Any excess alcohol consumption can raise your LDL cholesterol levels.
As long as you engage responsibly in your drinking practices and keep your consumption light to moderate, it is unlikely that you will adversely affect your cholesterol levels.
Even though certain types of alcohol may benefit your cholesterol levels when consumed in moderation, alcoholic beverages in general can still raise your LDL levels. Consuming alcohol only in moderation, if at all, can help ensure that this lifestyle habit doesn’t end up taking a toll on your heart health.
Professional Care from Home With Zizi
At Zizi, we make heart health simple by using the most up-to-date science and published research to provide you with professional care from your home. So sit back, relax with a glass of your preferred drink (in moderation of course), and get ready for the most effective and easy solutions, starting with supplements.
We offer a solution to your high cholesterol numbers by providing specific evidence-based supplements that target your high levels. You deserve the most straightforward and affordable path to good heart health care, and Zizi is here to give that to you.
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