How are Alcohol and Cholesterol Levels Connected?

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : November 25, 
| 4 Sources

Investigations into the association between alcohol and cholesterol levels have revealed surprising, if ambiguous results. Research has shown moderate use of alcohol may reduce the risk of developing:

alcohol and cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Strokes (ischemic)
  • Gallstones
  • Diabetes
  • Death from heart attack

However, these benefits may only be applicable to older adults or those who are currently experiencing risk factors that may provoke heart disease--high cholesterol, hypertension and other underlying conditions.

Studies examining alcohol and cholesterol rates on individuals who are younger (below age 40) have shown that moderate drinking indeed may affect their health quite differently.

It all boils down to moderation. Knowing the difference between moderate drinking and excessive drinking can make a vital difference in whether drinking actually benefits your health.

The United States Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion has posted the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans which contains suggestions for those who want to drink alcohol in moderation, which may help reduce cholesterol levels in some people. These guidelines recommend that women only drink one alcoholic beverage per day, while men could have up to two drinks per day.

Examples of what constitutes "one" drink are:

  • Beer: 12 fluid ounces (355 milliliters)
  • Wine: 5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters)
  • Distilled spirits (80 proof): 1.5 fluid ounces (44 milliliters)

What is Cholesterol?

Our body needs cholesterol to function properly. In fact, all cells in the body contain varying amounts of cholesterol, a waxy lipid necessary to produce vitamin D, enzymes and hormones. Cholesterol essentially hitches a ride inside lipoproteins, which transport cholesterol throughout the body.

Lipoproteins are either LDL (low-density lipoproteins) or HDL (high-density lipoproteins) While you need both for optimal functioning, it is the LDL type of cholesterol which clogs arteries, causes coronary heart disease and in general wrecks havoc with our cardiovascular system.

HDL cholesterol is beneficial in that it moves unnecessary cholesterol into the liver, which metabolizes and eliminates these lipoproteins from the body. Usually the presence of more HDL cholesterol than LDL means a person is not at risk for developing heart disease.

NIAAA Reports on Alcohol and Cholesterol

In a comprehensive article regarding alcohol and cholesterol by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s (NIAAA),

"several studies have indicated that moderate drinkers have a lower risk of both nonfatal myocardial infarction and fatal heart disease than do abstainers.” It goes on to say, “we found that consumption of up to two drinks per day can promote changes in the levels of molecules that reduce the risk of heart disease while also increasing the levels of certain molecules that promote heart disease. Alcohol also may affect the risk of heart disease by acting on other various other molecules involved in a variety of physiological processes related to heart disease.”

Even a Little Bit

In addition, the articles further states that trials regarding alcohol and cholesterol revealed an important effect on the participants' HDL levels. Researchers estimated that:

"Consumption of 30 grams of alcohol, or approximately two standard drinks, per day increases HDL-C (cholesterol) levels by 4.0 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). This increase in HDL-C levels...translates into a 16.8 percent decrease in the risk of coronary heart disease."

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However, the NIAA website also asserts that drinking alcohol elevates the levels of triglycerides at the same time it appears to lower HDL cholesterol. Triglycerides are the most common kind of fat in the human body. Triglycerides are a type of fatty acid found in animal fats and unsaturated vegetable oil, which store calories in the body not consumed by physical activity. Individuals who eat excessive amounts of carbohydrates generally have elevated triglyceride levels, a factor contributing to atherosclerosis and heart disease.

While alcohol and cholesterol definitely have a negative impact on each other when alcohol is consumed in excess over a lengthy period of time, it is never too late to begin reducing your alcohol intake in order to alleviate unhealthy levels of cholesterol.

Among the many treatment programs for alcoholism are: secular alcoholism support groups; woman-focused support groups; drugs that can assist you in your battle against alcohol dependency; medications that some say can cure alcoholism; herbal remedies and holistic alcohol treatments that can assist you in dealing your drinking problem.

If you need help deciding which treatment options are best for you, you may contact a dedicated treatment provider for help.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


NCBI. What is cholesterol and how does arteriosclerosis develop?. August 14, 2013.

Medline Plus. Triglycerides.

Harvard Health Publishing. Facts about alcohol and heart health. August 2018. Is drinking alcohol part of a healthy lifestyle?.

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