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Alcohol and Health

Alcohol and Cholesterol: Will Quitting Make a Difference?

November 2, 2023
19 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
November 2, 2023
19 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
November 2, 2023
19 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
November 2, 2023
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
November 2, 2023
19 min read
A person looking at the cholesterol test result

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substancefound in every cell of our bodies. While ithas earned a bit of a bad reputation inrecent decades, our bodies need it tofunction: it's essential for building cellmembranes, producing hormones andvitamin D, and metabolizing food for energy. However, too much cholesterol in the blood can be a problem.

When it comes to alcohol and cholesterol, there are some mixed messages out there. For a time, there was a popular notion that certain types of alcohol — such as red wine — could be a magic bullet for maintaining heart-healthy cholesterol levels. However, like most things that sound too good to be true, this theory hasn’t completely held up to scientific scrutiny: recent research reveals that the relationship between alcohol and cholesterol is far more nuanced than previously believed.

Let’s explore the connection between booze and cholesterol in more detail to answer the questions many of us have asked: how does alcohol affect cholesterol? Is alcohol bad for cholesterol? And will quitting alcohol help me keep my cholesterol levels in check?

Cholesterol 101

Before we explore the relation between alcohol and cholesterol, let's take a quick refresher on what cholesterol is. There are two main types:

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein). Often labeled the "bad" cholesterol, excessive LDL in our system can lead to plaque accumulation on artery walls. Over time, this buildup can restrict blood flow and elevate the risk of heart-related ailments, including heart attacks.
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein). Known as the "good" cholesterol as it helps carry cholesterol away from our arteries, redirecting it to the liver where it's processed and eventually expelled from the body.

Beyond LDL and HDL, triglycerides also play a crucial role in the cholesterol narrative. These fats, found in our blood, store unused calories and provide energy. However, high levels of triglycerides — especially when coupled with high LDL or low HDL — can hasten the process of arterial blockage.

When health professionals talk about “cholesterol levels,” they're referring to the concentration of total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides in our blood. Regular medical check-ups and blood tests help monitor these levels, ensuring they're within the recommended range.

Several factors (including diet, physical activity, stress levels, and even genetic predisposition) influence cholesterol levels. A balanced diet, active lifestyle, and solid stress management can go a long way in keeping them in the healthy range!

Does Alcohol Raise Cholesterol?

As we mentioned earlier, you’ve probably heard some mixed messages about alcohol and cholesterol. Some research suggests that moderate alcohol consumption can raise HDL cholesterol. However, the increase in HDL doesn't necessarily translate to a reduced risk of heart disease.

On the flip side, excessive alcohol consumption is linked to numerous health risks, including liver diseases and high blood pressure, which further strains the heart and impacts cholesterol levels:

  • Elevation in triglycerides. One of the most significant ways alcohol interferes with our lipid profile is its tendency to raise triglyceride levels. Elevated triglycerides — especially when accompanied by other cholesterol issues — can raise the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Potential LDL increase. Though there's been talk about moderate alcohol consumption potentially boosting HDL cholesterol, it's crucial not to miss the other side of the coin. Excessive drinking, especially over extended periods, can contribute to an increase in LDL cholesterol — the kind that's been linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease.
  • Weight gain. Alcoholic beverages are notorious for being packed with empty calories, which tend to add up and lead to weight gain. Increased weight, especially around the belly, has been linked to higher LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
  • Liver strain. Alcohol can tax the liver — a major player in cholesterol management. The liver processes alcohol, and excessive amounts can lead to liver disease, making it less efficient at regulating cholesterol in the bloodstream.
  • Interference with medications. For those already on cholesterol-lowering medications, alcohol might reduce their effectiveness or increase their side effects.
  • Blood pressure concerns. Alcohol can raise blood pressure, amping up the risks associated with cardiovascular diseases.
LDL vs. HDL Cholesterol

Does Wine Have Cholesterol?

Wine has often been at the center of many conversations about heart health and cholesterol. Resveratrol is a compound found in the skin of grapes. Red wine is particularly is rich in this compound due to the extended contact with grape skins during its production process. Some studies have pointed to resveratrol having heart-protective benefits, including increasing HDL cholesterol and protecting the lining of blood vessels in the heart.

While some research highlights potential benefits of red wine for heart health, it's essential to underline the keyword: moderation. What does this mean? Typically, moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. And when we say "drink," we mean only 5 ounces of wine — a small glass.

Beyond the Bottle

While it’s tempting to attribute heart benefits to wine, it's crucial to remember that there are other lifestyle factors often at play in the studies of wine drinkers, such as balanced nutrition (think Mediterranean diet) and physical activity. Both of these play a significant role in heart health. For some, drinking wine could lead to consuming more calories or making less health-conscious food choices — so it's a balance.

Though there might be potential heart-related perks for moderate wine consumption, excessive drinking can lead to adverse health effects, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.

The takeaway? If you enjoy wine and it's part of your lifestyle, sip in moderation and always in conjunction with a balanced diet and regular exercise. And for those reducing or quitting alcohol, rest assured: there are many other ways to maintain heart health without a nightly glass of vino!

Does Beer Have Cholesterol?

Does beer raise cholesterol? Whether you're an occasional beer drinker or someone who likes to understand the ins and outs of dietary choices, it's valuable to know how that frothy beverage interacts with our health.

Beer isn't just hops and water. Among its various components, polyphenols have piqued the interest of many health enthusiasts. These compounds, which come mainly from the barley and hops used in brewing, have potential health implications that have been explored in various studies, and there's some evidence suggesting that a bit of beer now and then can give a modest bump to our HDL cholesterol levels while decreasing the harmful oxidation of LDL cholesterol.

However, let's keep things in perspective: while these changes might sound promising, they don't give anyone a free pass to chug down beers without a second thought! There’s a bigger picture to keep in mind.

We can’t ignore beer’s high caloric content. Just like any food or drink with calories, excessive consumption without burning those extra calories can lead to weight gain. And this isn't just about fitting into our favorite pair of jeans — increased abdominal weight is associated with less favorable cholesterol profiles.

So let’s be real: when considering overall health and cholesterol management, beer isn’t the best way to go, and the risks outweigh any potential benefits in the end even more than with wine. In the end, it’s all about broader lifestyle changes — our diet, our activity levels, stress management, and so much more.

The Quitting Effect

Taking the step to quit or cut back on alcohol? First off, kudos for making a choice in favor of your well-being! If you’re wondering how alcohol affects the cholesterol test if you reduce your intake, the good news is that it’s likely you’ll see an improvement. Now, let’s get down to business and talk about the potential benefits this decision has on cholesterol levels.

  • Reduced triglycerides. Remember triglycerides? Alcohol can bump up their levels, which isn’t great for heart health. When we quit or even just cut back on alcohol, we’re giving our triglyceride levels a chance to decrease, which reduces the risk of heart diseases.
  • Stabilizing HDL levels. Drinking more than moderate amounts can elevate “bad” LDL cholesterol, negating any potential benefits alcohol has on HDL levels. By quitting, we’re helping to stabilize cholesterol levels and sidestep potential pitfalls!
  • Curbing caloric intake. Sneaky calories in alcohol can easily contribute to weight gain, especially around the midsection. Excess weight — particularly abdominal obesity — is bad news when it comes to cholesterol levels. By saying goodbye to booze, we’re dodging those extra calories, supporting weight management, and promoting a better cholesterol balance.
  • Enhanced liver function. Excessive alcohol consumption strains the liver, and since the liver plays a pivotal role in managing cholesterol levels, it's vital to keep it in tip-top shape. By quitting, we’re giving it a much-needed chance to reboot and function more efficiently. The result? Better regulation of cholesterol levels in the bloodstream!

Action Steps for Cholesterol Control

Finally, here are some action steps to help you navigate the journey:

  • Understand your numbers. Schedule regular cholesterol checks with your doctor. Know your LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol levels.
  • Incorporate heart-healthy foods. Oats, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds are all great choices. These foods can naturally help lower bad cholesterol.
  • Limit saturated and trans fats. These are the real culprits. Found in fried foods, pastries, and certain margarines, cutting back on foods high in saturated and trans fats can significantly reduce LDL.
  • Become a fiber fan. Foods high in soluble fiber can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL). Incorporate oats, barley, beans, lentils, fruits, and vegetables into your meals. Maybe even challenge yourself with a new fiber-rich recipe every week!
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking water aids in digestion and helps the body naturally eliminate waste, including excess cholesterol.
  • Get moving. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. This helps raise HDL while lowering LDL. Make it fun! Set a timer every hour to take a brief walk, stretch, or even dance around your living space.
  • Enlist a buddy. Everything's better with a friend! Find a buddy who's also looking to improve their health. Check in with each other, share tips, swap recipes, or even work out virtually together. The mutual encouragement can be your ticket to success.
  • Consider medications. If lifestyle changes aren't enough, medications can lower LDL. Discuss this possibility with your healthcare provider.

And when it comes to leaving alcohol behind, here are some tips that can help:

  • Master the mocktail game. Ditch the booze, but keep the experience! Experiment with crafting refreshing and vibrant non-alcoholic beverages. Blend fresh fruits, herbs, sparkling water, and natural sweeteners to whip up tasty drinks that won't leave you missing the booze.
  • Track the impact with a health journal. Monitor your progress! Start a dedicated health journal (try the journal feature of the Reframe app!). Jot down daily meals, moods, energy levels, and especially any changes you observe in your well-being after reducing alcohol. Over time, you might be pleasantly surprised by the patterns you notice.
  • Find a new evening ritual. It’s all about creating new habits. Replace your evening glass of wine or beer with a calming cup of herbal tea. Chamomile, peppermint, or hibiscus can be excellent choices to unwind and de-stress.
  • Find new stress-busting activities (that don’t involve booze). Stress can be a significant factor affecting cholesterol. Find your zen by exploring activities like yoga, meditation, or even adult coloring books. The key is to identify what resonates with you and make it a regular part of your routine.

Wrapping Up

Cholesterol control is all about finding the right balance for optimal performance. And when it comes to alcohol, the overarching message is clear: moderation is crucial, but for those looking to quit or cut back, there are plenty of reasons (cholesterol-related and beyond) to make that choice!

Summary FAQs

1. What exactly is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance present in every cell of our body. It's essential for several vital functions, including building cell membranes, producing certain hormones, and aiding in Vitamin D production. The concern arises from how cholesterol gets transported in our bloodstream, particularly when 'bad' LDL cholesterol levels are high.

2. What are LDL and HDL?

LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) is often dubbed the 'bad' cholesterol as it can lead to plaque buildup in arteries, while HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) is known as the 'good' cholesterol since it helps move cholesterol away from the arteries, reducing risk factors.

3. How does quitting alcohol affect cholesterol?

Quitting or reducing alcohol can lead to several positive outcomes: reduced triglyceride levels, stabilized HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, weight management which supports healthier cholesterol, and enhanced liver function for better cholesterol regulation.

4. What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are fats found in the blood that store unused calories and provide energy. However, high levels, especially when combined with high LDL or low HDL, can speed up arterial blockage, increasing heart disease risks.

5. How can I support healthier cholesterol without alcohol?

Several action steps can help, such as mastering the art of mocktails, keeping a health journal, creating new evening rituals, staying active, having a health buddy, consuming more fiber-rich foods, and engaging in stress-reducing activities.

6. Does alcohol affect my liver's ability to regulate cholesterol?

Yes, excessive alcohol consumption can strain the liver. Since the liver plays a pivotal role in managing cholesterol levels, keeping it in optimal condition is crucial. By reducing or quitting alcohol, you help the liver function better, thus supporting healthier cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.

Take Charge of Your Health With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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