Alcohol and Cholesterol
Alcohol and cholesterol: good for your heart? Or a liquid killer? It’s a common question, and a prickly one, because opinions range so wildly. Some people say to go ahead, pour yourself a glass of wine; other say avoid that glass of beer like an ugly drunk girl. (P.S. if you’re looking into other ways to reduce your cholesterol, read here to find out if there is a coffee-cholesterol link.)
Moderation Is Key
What you probably already know, if you’ve read some of the literature, is that moderate alcohol consumption is good for your heart and cholesterol levels. That means up to two drinks a day for men, and up to one drink a day for women. Hopefully, you also know that drinking more than that is very bad for your heart. In fact, heavy alcohol consumption is one of the major risk factors for heart disease.
Don't Drink to Excess
That’s the number-one take-home point: don’t drink to excess. That’s the one thing we can all agree on. Too much alcohol consumption is bad for your heart (including cholesterol levels) and your liver. It can raise your blood pressure, enlarge your liver, cause cardiac arrhythmia or stroke, even sudden cardiac death! I’m not saying you can’t enjoy yourself on a special occasion, such as your birthday, a wedding, or your dog’s first words. (Were they “woof-woof”?) Most people get a little drunk now and then, including me, and if you ask me, I think that’s probably okay. I mean, don’t get me wrong: it’s bad for you. But if you keep it relatively under control, I believe that the damage will be negligible. But remember: I’m not a doctor. This is just my personal opinion.
(This is a good time for an “alcohol and cholesterol” disclaimer. I believe that it is very important to take the time to educate yourself, by reading articles like this, so that you can make education decisions regarding your health. This is your life. You’re the one who has to live with the decisions you make regarding your diet and lifestyle. But keep in mind, I’m not a doctor, and the information presented in this article is my own non-professional opinion. You should not make any life-altering decisions based on the information in this article. Definitely talk to your doctor before you make any big changes to your diet or lifestyle, because not only do they know best, but your unique health situation might make you an exception to the general principles I’m talking about here. For instance, pregnant women should obviously avoid alcohol altogether, as well as people taking certain medications, including—so I’ve heard—statin drugs for high cholesterol.)
So, we agree that too much drinking is bad for cholesterol. Right? Good. What about drinking in moderation? The old, “up to two drinks a day for men and up to one drink a day for women”? That is the standard recommendation. And the majority of sources that I’ve read say that this is good for you, reducing your risk for various heart conditions by as much as 25 to 40%! That’s a significant amount. Supposedly, it does this by raising HDL levels (the “good cholesterol”), though it does not affect LDL levels (“bad cholesterol”).
There’s additional evidence that red wine may be the healthiest kind of alcohol to drink. Ever heard of the French paradox? There’s a certain area of France where the locals eat very fatty, rich foods, with lots of butter, cream, and the like; foods that are often associated with being bad for cholesterol. But, strangely, these particular Frenchmen and Frenchwomen have much lower levels of heart disease than average. One theory for why this is the case is because they drink a lot of wine. Some say that it’s the resveratrol in red wine that conveys the heart-healthy benefits; and others say it’s just the alcohol. The safest choice, in my opinion, is to get the best of both worlds by making red wine your drink of choice. You’ll get the heart-healthy benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, while also getting the antioxidant protection from the resveratrol. Plus, red wine is sophisticated and delicious! Double whammy!
Bottom line regarding alcohol and cholesterol: drinking too much is horrible for you. Moderate alcohol consumption is the healthiest option for your heart. And being a teetotaler (not drinking at all) is somewhere in the middle. Think about this stuff, because it’s well worth your time to make the right choices regarding alcohol and cholesterol.