Can Drinking Alcohol Affect Cholesterol Levels?
Can a few glasses of wine after work affect cholesterol? Alcohol is filtered through the liver and cholesterol is produced in the same place, but its effect on heart health really depends on how often and how much you drink.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced in the body, but it can also be obtained from food. One type of cholesterol, called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or “bad cholesterol,” builds up in the arteries and forms plaque.
This plaque can restrict blood flow to other parts of the body or cause plaque clots to flake off, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Healthy cholesterol levels
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), your total cholesterol level should ideally be less than 200 mg/dL, with levels above 240 mg/dL considered high; LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL.
The “good” cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, should be at least 60 mg/dL. Triglycerides, another form of fat in the blood, are a component of total cholesterol; like LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides increase the risk of heart disease.
Your body makes everything it needs, so you don’t have to rely on your diet to provide cholesterol. However, your diet can play a big role in raising your cholesterol.
Fortunately, alcohol, at least in the pure form of beer, wine, and alcohol, does not contain cholesterol. However, what you mix with, as well as how much and how often you consume it, can affect your heart health.
Beer and cholesterol
Beer does not contain cholesterol. It does, however, contain carbohydrates and alcohol, substances that raise triglyceride levels.
Beer also has plant sterols in it. These are compounds that bind to cholesterol and remove it from the body. But before you take this as evidence that beer is good for cholesterol, think twice.
Studies have shown that the average cold beer is low in sterols, and even full beers don’t have enough sterols to have a positive effect on cholesterol.
Liquors and cholesterol
Hard liquors such as whiskey, vodka, and gin also contain no cholesterol. However, some concoctions, such as the recently popular candy-flavored whiskeys, may contain extra sugar that can affect cholesterol levels.
The same is true of other cocktails and mixed drinks, which often contain ingredients high in sugar. Both alcohol and sugar can increase triglyceride levels.
Wine and cholesterol
Among alcoholic beverages, wine has the highest reputation with adults. This is due to a plant sterol called resveratrol, which is found in red wine.
According to reliable research data, resveratrol can reduce inflammation and may help prevent blood clots in the short term. It may help raise “good” cholesterol levels.
However, the positive effects of resveratrol are not long-lasting. More research is needed to support that this plant sterol can reduce the risk of heart complications.
How much and how often you drink matters
Beer, alcohol and wine each have different effects on cholesterol levels, but it’s more the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption than the beverage of choice that affects the heart.
The National Institutes of Health defines moderate drinking as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, and this amount of alcohol is considered to be heart-protective.
A study by Trusted Source found that moderate drinkers were significantly less likely to have a heart attack than those who did not drink at all. And men who drank daily were at less risk than those who drank once or twice a week.
According to experts, moderate alcohol consumption can raise “good” cholesterol levels by increasing the rate of protein transport through the body.
However, drinking more of what is considered moderate can be counterproductive because it increases cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
What is the impact of beer on cholesterol control?
From the last ounce of Natty Light consumed on college campuses to the alcoholic API consumed by the elite, beer is a staple in the American diet.
In fact, according to a Gallup survey, 43% of Americans choose beer as their beverage of choice when drinking alcohol.
Fortunately, beer itself doesn’t contain any natural cholesterol. So that’s a reason to celebrate. Not so fast.
Beer contains sterols that bind cholesterol
Beer has been called “liquid bread” because it usually contains barley malt, yeast and hops.
All of these substances contain phytosterols, plant compounds that bind to cholesterol and help remove it from the body. Some phytosterols, also known as plant sterols, are added to foods and beverages and sold as cholesterol-lowering foods.
So, if these sterols are naturally present in beer, does that mean beer can lower cholesterol? Unfortunately, no.
The amount of sterols (sitosterol and ergosterol) in beer, in general, is very low, too low to have a significant effect on lowering cholesterol, even in beers with high-fat content.
How beer affects cholesterol
Most of your cholesterol is produced by your body, with the rest coming from your diet.
When your doctor talks about your cholesterol, he or she is really talking about two types of cholesterol – HDL and LDL – and triglycerides, which are a type of fat. When we talk about total cholesterol, we’re talking about a combination of HDL and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Cold beer gives you energy, but beer also increases triglycerides. That’s because beer contains carbohydrates and alcohol, two substances that can quickly increase triglycerides. And people who are susceptible to beer will have higher triglyceride levels.
Triglycerides are part of total cholesterol, so an increase in triglycerides means an increase in total cholesterol. Ideally, triglyceride levels should be less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
The safety of alcohol depends on many factors, and you should discuss this with your doctor. However, if your doctor recommends that you have a drink or two, keep the points of discussion in mind.
The jury is still out on the best alcoholic beverages for your cholesterol. However, when it comes to how much and how often you should drink, there is a clear winner.