Drinking Alcohol and Cholesterol Levels (HDL and LDL)

The subject of alcohol and cholesterol levels has been widely studied. There is now medical agreement that drinking in moderation benefits cholesterol levels.


I.   Cholesterol

II.  Plaque

III. Sample Research

IV.  Resources

Unfortunately, many people don’t know the benefits of moderate drinking on cholesterol levels. Or they think  the benefits apply only to red wine. However, they also apply to white wine, beer, and distilled spirits. Spirits include whiskey, rum, tequila, brandy, gin, etc.

I. Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy type of fat that’s in the human body. Total cholesterol consists of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. A high cholesterol level is predictive of cardiovascular diseases. That includes heart attacks and strokes.

HDL is “good cholesterol.” It removes cholesterol from cells that have accumulated too much. It then takes it to the liver for disposal.

LDL is “bad cholesterol.” It moves cholesterol from the liver or small intestine to newly formed or growing cells. This is a necessary function. But too much cholesterol in the blood can build up and stick to the walls of the arteries.

II. Plaque

alcohol and cholesterolThis buildup is plaque. It can cause narrowing and hardening of the arteries. Plaque buildup can break away and cause heart attacks and strokes.

Regular moderate drinking raises the level of good cholesterol. At the same time, it lowers the level of bad cholesterol. The alcoholic beverages can be beer, wine or distilled spirits. Spirits are rum, tequila, whisky, vodka, etc.

Other improvements to the diet include eating foods low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fat. Then replacing them with those high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Margarine enriched with plant sterols is also a cholesterol-lowering food.

Regular aerobic exercise is another way to improve cholesterol levels. It also helps lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels.

If improved diet and exercise fail to reduce cholesterol to acceptable levels, it’s wise to consult a doctor.

III. Sample Research on Alcohol and Cholesterol


Researchers made a study using three independent general Japanese populations. The total number of male subjects was 2,289. The number of females was 1,940. Thus, the total number was 4,229.  Their mean age was 63.3.

Alcohol consumption was positively associated with HDL but negatively with LDL level.

The researchers conclusion was simple. “Alcohol consumption has a causal role in not only increasing HDL cholesterol levels but also decreasing LDL cholesterol levels.”1

Postmenopausal Women

Postmenopausal women participated in an eight-week controlled diet experiment. The control group drank no alcohol. One group consumed one drink per day. The third group had two drinks daily. The energy provided by the three diets was the same. After the diet, the researchers tested the HDL and LDL levels. Then they compared the latter groups to those of the control group.

Women who had one drink daily had lower LDL levels. Having two daily drinks did not significantly reduce them further. One daily drink marginally increased HDL. However, two daily drinks greatly raised HDL levels.2


alcohol and cholesterolOther researchers found better HDL levels among nonsmoking men and women who had at least seven drinks weekly. Then the researchers compared them to nonsmoking abstainers. The participants averaged 32 years of age.

Drinking in moderation has a positive affect while smoking appears to have a negative affect on HDL levels.3

IV. Resources on Alcohol and Cholesterol


Libonati, J. and Schwinden, K. Good Cholesterol, Bad Cholesterol. Bloomington: Authorhouse, 2011.

Rinzler, C. and Graf, M. Controlling Cholesterol for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ : Wiley, 2008

Senior, N. and Cuskelly, V. Eat to Beat Cholesterol. Chatswood, NSW: New Holland, 2016.


Baer, D. J., et al. Moderate alcohol consumption lowers risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nurs, 2002, 75, 593-599.

De Oliveira, E. et al. Alcohol consumption raises HDL cholesterol levels. Circ, 2000, 102, 2347-2352.

Earnst, N. et al. The association of plasma high-density lipoprotein cholesterol with dietary intake and alcohol consumption. Circ, 1980, 62(4 Pt 2), IV 41-52.

Koppes, L., et al. Blood cholesterol levels of 32-year-old consumers are better than of nonconsumers. Pharm Biochem Behav, 2000, 66(1), 163-167.

Linn, S. et al. High-density lipoprotein cholesterol and alcohol consumption.  Am J Pub Health, 1993, 83(6), 811-816.

Suh, I. et al. Alcohol use and mortality from coronary heart disease.  Ann Intern Med. 1992, 116(11), 881-887.

References for Alcohol and Cholesterol

  1. Tabara, Y., et al. Mendelian randomization analysis in three Japanese populations. A causal role of alcohol consumption. Athero, 2016, 254, 242-248.
  2. Baer, D., et al. Moderate alcohol consumption lowers risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr, 2002, 75(3), 593-539.
  3. Koppes, L., et al. Blood cholesterol levels of 32-year-old consumers are better than of nonconsumers. Pharm Biochem Behav, 2000, 66(1), 163-167.