If you want to quit drinking alcohol, you can probably think of a lot of good reasons for doing so. What you may not know is that a growing body of research suggests that there are more benefits in avoiding alcohol than you might have imagined. Indeed, studies indicate a potentially significant link between alcohol and cholesterol levels (1). Eliminating alcohol, or at the very least significantly reducing intake, can not only enhance your overall quality of life but can also improve your heart health. In fact, if you’re looking for ideas on how to lower cholesterol without drugs, learning to limit or eliminate alcohol may well be among the best!
Alcohol’s Effect on the Liver
The connection between alcohol and cholesterol rests primarily in the liver and how it metabolizes liquor. When alcohol is introduced into the body, the liver metabolizes it by breaking it down into both triglycerides and cholesterol (2).
That means that, in the short term, when you consume alcohol, you’re increasing cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your blood. And, if you already have atherosclerosis or other forms of cardiovascular disease, this spike in the blood lipid levels can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
This is particularly true of binge drinking, which is generally defined as 5 or more drinks in less than 2 hours for men and 4 or more for women (3). When you binge drink, you are at greater risk of heart rhythm abnormalities, such as atrial fibrillation, and that can result in blood clots that lead to ischemic stroke or heart attack. So, if triglycerides and cholesterol levels in your blood are spiking, and then you introduce a heart arrhythmia, you may well be creating a perfect storm in your vascular system.
That’s why some physicians advise against drinking entirely for patients with heart conditions or certain other health concerns, including diabetes or liver disease (3, 6).
It’s not only the immediate spike in the blood’s lipid levels that you have to be concerned with when you consume alcohol. As shown above, when alcohol is introduced into the body, the liver metabolizes it by breaking it down into fats which are then released into the bloodstream.
When triglyceride levels in the blood become too high, though, the liver simply has nowhere to release the fat (2). Instead, it begins to store the excess triglycerides and cholesterol, often leading to fatty liver disease and, eventually, even to cirrhosis and liver failure (4).
As the liver becomes increasingly compromised, its ability to metabolize alcohol further declines. This leads to even higher levels of fats in the blood, resulting not just in the spike in blood lipid levels when alcohol is consumed, but also in persistently higher levels of triglycerides and low-density cholesterol (LDL), both of which are associated with plaque formation in the vascular walls (2, 3).
The risks don’t end there. Even as alcohol consumption contributes to increasing levels of dangerous blood fats, it also links to lower levels of “protective” fats, those high density-cholesterols (HDL) that can inhibit plaque formation (2, 3).
What About Moderation?
You may have heard that the evidence is associating alcohol consumption with higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. After all, there’s been a great deal of hype in recent years about the heart health benefits of moderate red wine consumption.
To be sure, there is some modest evidence to suggest that resveratrol, a polyphenol, or type of antioxidant, found in red wine can help increase HDL and reduce LDL (5). However, the research is mixed, and there are many and far healthier alternatives for incorporating resveratrol and polyphenols into your diet. From grapes and peanuts to blueberries and cranberries, you have a range of delicious and nutritious choices for boosting your resveratrol intake without incurring the risks of alcohol.
Alcohol, Cholesterol, and Statins
One of the most exciting aspects of the current research into the connection between alcohol and cholesterol is that it may provide a strategy to help you reduce your cholesterol levels without medications like statins.
In fact, if you already take statin drugs to reduce your cholesterol levels, avoiding alcohol can help to make the medication work more effectively, potentially enabling you, in consultation with your doctor, to lower your statin dosage. In addition, studies increasingly show that statins and alcohol can be a dangerous combination because statin drugs in themselves carry a risk of liver damage. Not surprisingly, this risk is only amplified when you drink alcohol while taking statins (7).
You can probably think of many reasons to eliminate and substantially limit your alcohol intake. The potential benefits for your heart are probably an unexpected bonus. Medical studies increasingly support the association between alcohol and high levels of dangerous cholesterol. So, choosing to abstain or reduce your intake may well be the perfect way to show your heart a little love. If alcohol consumption is impacting your physical or mental health, and you need support, the professionals at Bayshore can help! Contact us to learn more about how we can help you live your best and healthiest life without alcohol.