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BN Doctors’ Lounge with Folasade Alli: Alcohol & Your Cholesterol Levels



According to the market research group, Global Data, Nigeria is the world’s leading alcohol drinking country in Africa. Among the disadvantages of excess alcohol consumption, there is unsurprisingly, a negative impact on cholesterol levels.

What is cholesterol and why is it so important?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is naturally produced by your body, and food. There are four kinds of cholesterol including total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglycerides. The body requires cholesterol to function properly, however, too much LDL or “bad” cholesterol can narrow the arteries and result in heart attack or stroke. This happens when LDL forms plaque in the arteries that restrict blood flow to other parts of the body. Also, too much triglyceride in the arteries can increase the risk of heart disease, while HDL is known as “good” cholesterol.

It is important to check your cholesterol levels due to its correlation with heart diseases. This becomes increasingly important as you grow older. It is also important to check if close family members have high blood cholesterol – a symptomless condition that can be detected with a simple blood test.

Other factors that increase one’s risk of high blood cholesterol include excess weight and excess consumption of fatty foods.

Making simple daily changes to your lifestyle including eating right, and exercising more can lower total blood cholesterol. Medication may be required to further manage cholesterol levels.

How does alcohol affect cholesterol levels?
When the body consumes excess alcohol, the enzymes responsible for metabolising fats must fulfil another function. Metabolising the excess alcohol increases fat concentration in the liver, and increases LDL (“bad” cholesterol). Also, though some kinds of liquor do not contain any cholesterol, what you mix with such alcohol matters to your heart, as well as how much, and how often you drink.

The heart is mostly affected by the kind of alcohol you drink, what you mix with it, the frequency at which you drink it, and the amount you drink each day.

What is the relationship between beer and cholesterol?
Although beer does not contain cholesterol, it contains substances such as carbohydrates and alcohol that can increase triglyceride levels.

What is the relationship between wine and cholesterol?
You may have heard of the relationship between red wine and lower risk of cardiovascular disease. This is largely due to a non-alcoholic component found in red wine, called resveratrol. Several scientific studies have shown that resveratrol may contribute towards HDL. That said, many of such studies were performed on animals and more studies on humans are needed to support the relationship between resveratrol and cholesterol. Also, moderation applies to red wine, as much as it applies to other alcoholic beverages.

What is the relationship between hard liquor and cholesterol?
Non-flavoured (‘straight’) hard liquors (including whiskey and vodka) are usually cholesterol-free, while flavoured whiskey, gin and vodka may contain substances that increase cholesterol levels. The same applies to mixed hard liquor such as cocktails.

The Bottom Line
How much and how often you should drink must be discussed with your doctor. Nevertheless, mild-to-moderate alcohol is better for keeping good cholesterol levels. This means, 5 oz. of wine or 12 oz. of beer a day for both men and women.

Photo Credit: Tyler Olson

Dr. Folasade Alli is a U.K. and Nigeria trained Consultant Cardiologist and Advocate for Women in Cardiology. Her career is devoted to the diagnosis and treatment of heart, vascular and thoracic diseases through early detection, clinical management, education and prevention. Read some of her work HERE.


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