Alcohol

Cutting down on alcohol can help you to lower your cholesterol levels. It can improve your heart health in other ways too, by helping to look after your liver, your blood pressure, your weight and your waist line.

There’s lots of bonuses to cutting back as well. You might notice your skin looks brighter, you feel more energetic, your mood improves and you sleep better. There’s help available too and ideas to get you motivated.

How does alcohol raise your cholesterol?

  • When you drink alcohol, it’s broken down and rebuilt into triglycerides and cholesterol in the liver. So, drinking alcohol raises the triglycerides and cholesterol in your blood.
  • If your triglyceride levels become too high, they can build up in the liver, causing fatty liver disease. The liver can’t work as well as it should and can’t remove cholesterol from your blood, so your cholesterol levels rise.
  • Alcohol can lead to the combination of a high triglyceride level along with low HDL cholesterol. This can lead to heart disease.

Alcohol can affect your health in other ways too:

  • it can lead to weight gain and raise your blood pressure, which raises your risk of heart disease
  • it can lead to some types of cancer, liver disease, pancreatitis, depression and dependency.

How much alcohol is safe to drink?

To stay in good health and avoid illness, the government recommends drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, for men and women. To keep the risks down:

  • spread your units out across the week
  • have some alcohol-free days
  • avoid drinking more than six units in six hours, which counts as binge drinking – that’s less than three 175ml glasses of wine or three pints of beer.

If you have high cholesterol or FH, it should be OK to drink alcohol within these limits. There are some health problems and treatments which can mean it’s safer to avoid alcohol all together. Speak to your doctor or nurse about what’s safe for you.

In the past, it was thought that drinking in moderation was good for your heart. It’s now believed that the only possible benefits are for women over 55 when drinking 5 units a week or less, and the benefits are modest.

We don’t recommend drinking alcohol to improve your health, as you will improve your health more by eating well and being active. With alcohol, the cons could out way the pros.

How much is a unit of alcohol?

A unit of alcohol is roughly the amount your body can clear from your blood in one hour. It’s the equivalent of 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol.

Different drinks contain different amounts of alcohol, as some are stronger than others. For example, a 175ml glass of wine can contain anywhere between 1.9 and 2.4 units. It can be surprising how many units are in your favorite drinks, and how quickly they add up.

14 units is roughly:

  • 6 pints of average strength beer or ale (ABV 4%)
  • 6 175ml glasses of wine (ABV 13%)
  • 14 25ml single measures of spirits (ABV 40%).

How can I drink less alcohol?

Cutting down on alcohol can be easier than you think. Try these tips to help you:

  • check the percentage of alcohol in your drinks and swap to lower strength options
  • only drink while you’re having a meal
  • take the bottle off the table while you’re eating, so you won’t top up without thinking
  • alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks
  • make your drinks last longer by adding ice, water or mixers
  • try drinking more slowly
  • watch out for very large glasses
  • choose smaller amounts, such as a bottle of beer instead of a pint
  • buy a measure so you know how much you’re drinking.

Where to get support

If you need support to help you cut back or stop drinking: