The Truth About Alcohol’s Effects on Cholesterol

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The Truth About Alcohol’s Effects on Cholesterol

The fact remains: As we get older, our bodies change. While it’s crucial at any age to look after our health, it becomes even more important as the years go by. Yes, that includes putting more effort into our diet. 

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Ever since we were young, we’ve heard about the importance of paying attention to what we put into our bodies. That rings true perhaps even more so as we get older. Unfortunately, Father Time is undefeated. We may not be able to throw the baseball as far as we used to, our hand-eye coordination might have slipped just a little bit, and we’ve noticed our metabolism is slightly different from what it was when we were 20.

The fact remains: As we get older, our bodies change. While it’s crucial at any age to look after our health, it becomes even more important as the years go by. Yes, that includes putting more effort into our diet.

Some dietary habits that start at an early age and last for years, such as excessive drinking, can have a lasting impact if not addressed.

Reasons for drinking alcohol differ from person to person. Some might find it relaxing, while others use it as a way to socialize. But too much alcohol and alcohol misuse can impact your physical health in more ways than one. 

Today, we’ll take a look at how alcohol affects things like cholesterol levels, signs of alcohol misuse, and what you can do to address alcohol use disorder.

So, What is Cholesterol?

The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) defines cholesterol as ”a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs.”

Too much cholesterol in your blood may combine with other substances to form plaque. Plaque can stick to the walls of your arteries, which could lead to the narrowing of the arteries and even blockage. 

According to the NLM, “If you have large deposits of plaque in your arteries, an area of plaque can rupture (break open). This can cause a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque. If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block blood flow in a coronary artery.”

Lack of blood flow can lead to a heart attack. Other arteries in your body can be affected, which can lead to serious health issues like stroke, carotid artery disease, and peripheral arterial disease. 

Things that may impact your cholesterol levels include genetics, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, smoking, age, and obesity.

Since there really are no signs of high cholesterol, a blood test is typically used to diagnose it.

You can lower your cholesterol by eating a healthy diet, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Alcohol’s Effects on Cholesterol

Simply put: Alcohol can raise your cholesterol. 

According to HEART UK, a United Kingdom-based organization focused on raising awareness about high cholesterol, alcohol is broken down and rebuilt into triglycerides and cholesterol in the liver. This, in turn, leads to increased triglycerides and cholesterol in your blood.

When triglyceride levels get too high, triglycerides can build up in the liver and cause fatty liver disease. Since the liver is somewhat compromised, it may not be able to remove cholesterol from your blood. This can raise your cholesterol. 

Alcohol can also lead to weight gain, which can then lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. Other health problems alcohol can contribute to include pancreatitis and depression.

Since excessive alcohol use can lead to addiction and other issues, dietary guidelines regarding alcohol consumption have been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Drinking in moderation for men is two drinks or less a day, and one drink a day for women. Two out of three adults admit to drinking above moderate levels at least once a month.

There are people who should refrain from drinking at all, including:

  • Those who are pregnant or might become pregnant
  • Those under the legal drinking age
  • Those with certain medical conditions
  • Those taking certain medications
  • Those recovering from an alcohol use disorder, or those who have trouble limiting their alcohol intake

Many believe including some alcohol in their diet, like red wine, can have a positive impact on their health. The American Heart Association suggests, “Studies have found that moderate alcohol consumption may have some health benefits, including raising ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels and lowering the risk of diabetes. However, excessive drinking can lead to a host of health problems, including liver damage, obesity, some types of cancer and stroke, not to mention its negative effect on the heart.” While there are some conflicting studies about alcohol’s positive effects on physical health, the keyword is: moderation.

Other Health Issues Caused by Drinking Too Much

Alcohol misuse and drinking too much can affect many parts of the body, from the brain to the pancreas. 

Excessive alcohol use can lead to problems with thinking, memory, learning, and sleep. Permanent brain damage can even occur. Other issues may include hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there) and fatigue.

We’ve discussed how alcohol can affect cholesterol and the heart, but it can also cause irregular heartbeat and other circulatory system problems. 

Since the liver filters toxins from alcohol, it can be overworked, which can lead to scar tissue building up on the organ. Excessive alcohol use can also lead to liver diseases.

Too much drinking can cause pancreatitis, which can lead to malnutrition and digestive issues.

Alcohol can also affect the immune system by compromising it for up to 24 hours after drinking. This increases your risk of illness.

Binge drinking can lead to addiction later in life. More than 50% of adults are reportedly regular drinkers.

While alcohol use in moderation can be relatively safe if done responsibly, it’s important to know when there’s an underlying issue such as misuse or addiction.

Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) occurs when a drinking problem hits a point where it becomes severe. 

Symptoms may include:

  • Drinking longer or more than you intended
  • Inability to quit drinking
  • Drinking to the point of feeling sick
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Withdrawal when you’re not drinking
  • Negatives effects on your personal and professional life caused by drinking
  • Building up a tolerance to alcohol, and the need to drink more to feel the effects

Anyone can develop AUD. However, some things may contribute to it like stress, mental health issues, grief, and various traumatic experiences. While not everyone who experiences these things will develop AUD, these factors can have an impact.

There are also key differences between alcohol misuse and addiction. Misuse occurs when alcohol has adverse effects on your personal and professional life. An addiction (AUD) occurs when you’re no longer able to control the habit. 

Alcohol Withdrawal: What to Expect

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when a person who has an alcohol use disorder stops drinking. 

According to the NLM, alcohol withdrawal can begin 8 hours after your last drink. However, the symptoms usually peak after 2-3 days and can longer.

Symptoms can include fatigue, irritability, nightmares, mood swings, anxiety, depression, rapid heart rate, headache, and sweating.

More severe symptoms may include fever, confusion, hallucinations, and seizures.

It’s important to remember alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous. Inpatient or outpatient treatment and professional monitoring may be needed. This includes a medically supervised detox. This will help provide a safer environment for the person experiencing withdrawal. Things like medication may be given to ease the effects of withdrawal.

You don’t have to fight your alcohol use disorder alone.

Get Help Today

The journey from alcohol use disorder to recovery begins with a single step. That’s usually the hardest part.

You deserve the best care possible. Today, you can begin your road to recovery. Call 877-630-2970. Calls are free and confidential. 

RehabCenter can help bridge the gap between those who need treatment and the quality facilities that provide it. By reaching out, you can speak with a treatment specialist who will determine what alcohol use disorder treatment options may be needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will quitting alcohol lower cholesterol?

Since alcohol can raise your cholesterol, quitting drinking can have positive effects on your health, especially if you’re drinking too much. As mentioned above, when triglyceride levels get too high, they can build up in the liver and cause fatty liver disease. Damage to the liver could reduce its ability to remove cholesterol from your blood.

Why does alcohol raise cholesterol?

Alcohol is broken down and rebuilt into triglycerides and cholesterol in the liver. This leads to increased triglycerides and cholesterol in your blood. High cholesterol in your blood can combine with other things to form plaque. Plaque may lead to the narrowing of the arteries and even blockage. Too much alcohol can also affect the body in other ways by impacting other organs like the pancreas, brain, and kidneys.

Does wine affect cholesterol?

As mentioned earlier, according to the American Heart Association, “Studies have found that moderate alcohol consumption may have some health benefits, including raising ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels and lowering the risk of diabetes. However, excessive drinking can lead to a host of health problems, including liver damage, obesity, some types of cancer and stroke, not to mention its negative effect on the heart.” While a moderate amount of red wine has been linked to good heart health, it’s difficult to prove that. It could simply be that those who drink red wine tend to live healthier lifestyles. You can find more information on the negative effects of drinking too much, as well as what it means to drink in moderation, earlier in this blog post.

What is the best alcohol to drink to lower cholesterol?

It’s commonly believed that moderate alcohol consumption can have a positive impact on your health, like having a glass of red wine a day. While many experts debate this, it’s always important to simply remember moderation is key. Too much alcohol in any form can have harmful effects on the body.

 

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