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. 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. Cholesterol consists of LDL (low-density lipoprotein). Also of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Total cholesterol is LDL level plus HDL level. A high total cholesterol level is predictive of heart 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.

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 also improves cholesterol levels. In addition, it helps lower blood pressure.

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

III. 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 linked with HDL but negatively with LDL level.

Their 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 were 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 reduce them much more. One daily drink increased HDL some. However, two daily drinks greatly raised HDL levels. In short, one drink a day was good for cholesterol levels. However, two drinks per day was much better.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.

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

Web Pages

Alcohol and Health: Medical Findings.

Drinking Alcohol and All-Cause Mortality Risk.

Popular Readings

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.

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.