Alcohol and Cholesterol
Have you ever wondered what impact alcohol has on your health if you have medical problems such as lipid disorders or heart disease? Despite your present health situation, it is important to understand how alcohol consumption affects your cholesterol levels.
Is Cholesterol important?
Cholesterol plays an important role in the production of steroid hormones and bile acids. It is also a key component in the structure of cells that make up our bodies. However, too much of cholesterol is bad since it increases our chances of developing heart diseases.
Cholesterol is transported in the blood while attached to compounds called lipoproteins. The two main lipoproteins are:
- Low-Density Lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) also referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’ because when in excess, it is responsible for transporting cholesterol to our arteries where it builds up and increases our risk of heart diseases.
- High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (HDL-C) also referred to as ‘good cholesterol’ because it is responsible for carrying cholesterol from the arteries back to the liver thus reducing our risk of heart diseases.
- Triglycerides are Fats that are transported by other lipoproteins and they also increase our risk of heart diseases and pancreatitis if in excess.
Any imbalance in the levels of these lipoproteins and/or fats(triglycerides) in blood is termed as a lipid disorder (dyslipidemia) and it increases our risk of developing heart diseases.
What constitutes a lipid disorder?
A lipid disorder is characterized by either one or a combination of the following:
- High cholesterol levels – High levels of Low-Density Lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) or Total Cholesterol
- High triglyceride levels – High levels of fats in the blood
- Low concentrations of High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (HDL-C)
Watch this video by American Heart Association for an audio-visual representation:
Effect of Alcohol on Lipid levels
Although alcohol does not contain cholesterol, it has both a negative and positive impact on it. Interestingly, one gram (1g) or one milliliter (1 ml) of alcohol contains 7.1 kcal of energy, which is more than the 4 kcal supplied by either one gram (1g) of carbohydrates or proteins. The body usually prioritizes utilizing these calories and convert the rest that is supplied by other food into triglycerides leading to high triglycerides levels. Some alcoholic drinks contain added sugar, which also increase the chances of suffering from high triglyceride levels.
In addition, alcohol can disrupt lipid levels indirectly by by causing fatty liver disease hence interfering with cholesterol production. Excessive alcohol consumption can also cause insulin resistance through inflammation and may interfere with the functioning of drugs such as statins, used to treat lipid disorders.
The paradox is that moderate consumption of alcohol is touted for elevating the levels of HDL-C (good cholesterol). A glass of red wine, is hailed for its heart benefits because of its ability to raise HDL levels. However, skeptics are always quick to point out that the health benefits are not caused by alcohol but are as a result of the action of a compound called resveratrol. Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with:
- Lower chances of ischemic stroke
- Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes
- Improved renal function
Excessive Alcohol Consumption
It is recommended that adults should not take more than 2 drinks (men) and 1 drink (women) per day.
Does the Source of alcohol Matter?
Not exactly. The quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption is what matters. Your bodies reaction to alcohol remains the same regardless of whether you are taking beer, wine, or spirit. Some of the harmful effects attributed to alcohol include:
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- Intestinal bleeding
- Vomiting, diarrhea, and excess urination
- Damaged intestines
- Reduced metabolism of nutrients
How safe it is for you to drink depends on many factors, which you should discuss with your doctor. But when it comes to how much and how often you should drink, there’s a clear-cut winner: Mild to moderate drinking is better for keeping your cholesterol — and your heart — healthy. DO NOT START DRINKING IF YOU DON’T.