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Alcohol's Effect on Cholesterol

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What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that moves through your blood by attaching to proteins.3 Your body uses it to build healthy cells. But too much can be dangerous, increasing your risk of heart disease.

36928576 artery blocked with cholesterol

With high cholesterol, fatty deposits form in your blood vessels. As they grow, they restrict blood flow through your arteries. This increases the risk for breakage and clot formation, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.6

High cholesterol is something you can inherit, but typically it's the result of an unhealthy lifestyle.6 You can combat it by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some medications can also help.

You won't experience any symptoms with high cholesterol. The only way to detect it is with a blood test.6

There are two different types of cholesterol, which is based on the type of lipoprotein (the combination of the cholesterol and protein is called a lipoprotein):

  1. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): This is considered the “bad” cholesterol.” It can build up in your artery walls, which makes them harden over time.6
  2. High-density lipoprotein (HDL): This is considered the “good” cholesterol.” It picks up extra cholesterol and moves it to your liver.6

What is Considered Healthy Cholesterol? 

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered the healthy kind of cholesterol.

For men 20 years and older, 125 to 200mg/dL is considered a healthy level for overall cholesterol. HDL should be about 40mg/dL or higher. LDL for men should be below 100mg/dL.2

For women 20 years and older, 125 to 200mg/dL is considered a healthy level for overall cholesterol. HDL should be about 50mg/dL or higher. LDL for women should be lower than 100mg/dL.2

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What is Considered High Cholesterol? 

Your cholesterol is considered high if your LDL is above 100mg/dL.2

A healthy lifestyle and smart choices can keep your bad cholesterol down. Some medications may also help reduce your bad cholesterol levels.

There are a few ways you can develop high cholesterol. While you can inherit it, it usually has to do with an unhealthy lifestyle. 

Behaviorial risks include:

These behaviors have also been linked to diabetes and dementia.8

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Cholesterol Levels?

Yes, alcohol does affect your cholesterol levels. It's important to drink in moderation.5

Research shows that up to 19% of alcohol-related deaths were due to cardiovascular diseases.8

While alcohol does increase your chances of developing high cholesterol, it also raises your HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) by increasing the transport rate of apolipoproteins A-I and A-II.4

Overall, however, excessive alcohol consumption puts you at a higher risk of high "bad" cholesterol.10

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What Type of Alcohol Affects Cholesterol Levels More?

Alcohol, in general, affects your cholesterol levels. But some are considered better than others.

For example, research purports that red wine may increase your good cholesterol (HDL) to protect your blood from cholesterol buildup.9 This may be because of the antioxidants in red wine.

The antioxidants in red wine are known as polyphenols. They help protect the lining of the blood vessels in your heart. One particular polyphenol, called resveratrol, is notable for its health benefits.

Because a glass of wine can help to increase HDL, this means it can help to prevent blood clots, which can help to prevent heart disease, stroke, heart attacks, and more.

Just remember that drinking alcohol can still take a toll on your health. It’s important to not drink too much - this can adversely affect cholesterol and your overall well being.

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How Much Alcohol is Safe to Drink with High Cholesterol? 

If you have high total cholesterol or high bad cholesterol, you should limit your alcohol intake. Drinking liquor, beer, and other types of alcohol with high cholesterol can be dangerous.

If you are going to drink, stick to moderate alcohol consumption only.7 The recommendations for moderate alcohol intake are considered two standard drinks per day for men and one standard drink per day for women.8

This limit has been shown to reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease.

You should also talk to your doctor about drinking with high cholesterol. Your doctor can help determine how safe it is for you to drink with high cholesterol.

If necessary, they can also prescribe you medications to help lower your cholesterol.

Does Drinking in Moderation Boost ‘Good’ Cholesterol?

Yes, studies show that drinking in moderation can also boost your good cholesterol, also known as HDL cholesterol. This is because alcohol increases the rate at which your blood transports the apolipoproteins A-I and A-II.4

How to Prevent & Treat High Cholesterol 

High cholesterol puts you at an increased risk of heart disease, so it is important to follow medical advice and keep your cholesterol at a healthy level. 

This may mean cutting back on your alcohol consumption by limiting the amount of alcohol you drink throughout the week.1 

For some, it may mean only having one drink per day, two drinks during the week, or drinking only moderate amounts of beer or wine on the weekends. Others may need to stop drinking altogether.

Maintaining your health through regular, moderate exercise is also essential. Getting your body moving boosts your physical health, including your cardiovascular health. It also supports your mental health.

Lastly, building a more positive relationship with food (less sugar and processed foods) can help you make healthier choices and keep your total cholesterol at ideal levels.

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Updated on March 29, 2022
10 sources cited
  1. Alcohol.HEART UK.
  2. Cholesterol Levels: What You Need to Know.MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2 Oct. 2020, 
  3. “Cholesterol.”  
  4. Elizabeth R. De Oliveira e Silva, et al. “Alcohol Consumption Raises HDL Cholesterol Levels by Increasing the Transport Rate of Apolipoproteins A-I and A-II.Circulation, 7 Nov. 2000.
  5. Facts about Alcohol and Heart Health.Harvard Health, 1 Aug. 2018.
  6. High Cholesterol.Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 13 July 2019. 
  7. Is Drinking Alcohol Part of a Healthy Lifestyle?
  8. Minzer, Simona, et al. “The Effect of Alcohol on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: Is There New Information?Nutrients, MDPI, 27 Mar. 2020.
  9. The Truth about Red Wine and Heart Health.Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 Oct. 2019.
  10. What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean.”

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