You may have heard that drinking a glass of wine or two reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.
In moderation, red wine might offer the greatest benefit for lowering the risk of heart disease and death.
This is because it contains concentrated levels of polyphenols (like resveratrol) that have antioxidant properties and might protect artery walls.
While it is true that drinking small amounts of certain alcohol can have some heart-healthy benefits, excessive alcohol consumption can be a detriment to your health, especially when mixed with medications such as statins.
Statin therapy is given to individuals who struggle with high cholesterol. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 47 million Americans take it.
As with most medicines, it comes with potential side effects and risks which can be exacerbated with heavy drinking. In this article, I’ll cover potential side effects, risks, as well as common statins.
Is It Safe to Mix Statins and Alcohol?
Both statin medications and alcohol can impair liver function.
Thus, mixing them can increase the burden on the liver and lead to more serious health complications such as liver damage or disease.
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol while taking statins can also put you at greater risk of the following:
- Muscle pain including aches, soreness, and tiredness
- Kidney problems
- Alcohol-induced constriction of cerebral arteries
It is important to get a blood test before beginning statins to check your liver is in good condition.
You should also schedule recurring blood tests around the three-month mark to check the health of your liver.
When taking statins, you should limit your alcohol intake, avoid smoking, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly.
What Are Statins?
Statin drugs are prescription medications a healthcare provider gives to lower cholesterol levels.
They work to remove existing cholesterol in the bloodstream by reducing the inflammation in your artery walls.
This slows the buildup of plaque in your arteries that can eventually cause the arteries to narrow or harden.
Sudden blood clots in these restricted arteries can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Statin therapy brings your levels into balance by decreasing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels (sometimes called bad cholesterol) and raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is sometimes called good cholesterol.
Side Effects and Risks
While statin medications are safe for most individuals, some people experience side effects from the drugs. The most common side effects include:
- Muscles aches, soreness, and tiredness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Flushing of the skin
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal cramping or pain
- Bloating or gas
- Rash (in less common cases, acne)
- Low levels of blood platelets
Less common side effects include:
- Hair loss
- Erectile dysfunction or a low sex drive
- Skin sensations such as pins and needles, pricking, numbness, or tingling
- Pancreas inflammation, which can cause stomach pain
Type 2 Diabetes: Studies show that statins can increase the risk of diabetes, especially in higher doses and among those who have other risk factors for diabetes.
Rhabdomyolysis: In extremely rare cases (a few cases per million of those taking statins) statin drugs can cause life-threatening muscle damage known as rhabdomyolysis. As well as severe muscle pain, rhabdomyolysis can cause liver damage, kidney failure, and death. The severely damaged muscles release proteins into the blood that collect in the kidneys and can ultimately lead to kidney failure. This is more likely to occur among people who take stronger statins or drug interactions with other medications.
Certain individuals are more susceptible to side effects from statin therapy. Those at higher risk include:
- People over the age of 80 years old
- People with vaginas are more likely to report more serious side effects from statins than people with penises
- People with smaller body frames
- Studies have been linked to birth defects, so it is advised that pregnant or nursing people avoid these drugs
- Individuals with active or chronic kidney or liver disease as the drugs can cause serious muscle problems
- Those with medical conditions such as hypothyroidism or neuromuscular disorders including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Those who are taking other medications simultaneously
Statins and the Liver
In some cases, statin use can increase liver enzymes that cause inflammation. If the increase is only mild, you can continue to take statins.
You should speak with your doctor about any liver issues you are experiencing or have experienced.
They can request an enzyme test before or shortly after taking the statin to determine if you are at risk of liver damage from the medication.
Alcohol and High Cholesterol
You may have heard about the benefits of red wine.
Red wine has been studied for its potential to lower heart disease risk and even death because it contains concentrated amounts of phenolic compounds that can offer cardiovascular protection effects.
It can decrease the stress of LDL cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol, which helps remove cholesterol deposits from your arteries and protects against a heart attack.
However, these same polyphenols that are in red wine are also found in grapes. If you would prefer to avoid drinking red wine but want to reap the benefits, you can eat grapes instead.
There are two main types of statin medication: low-intensity statins (including pravastatin and simvastatin) and high-intensity statins (such as atorvastatin and rosuvastatin).
Most individuals are prescribed low-intensity statins by their health care providers which are effective in lowering cholesterol levels.
Common statin medicines include:
- Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
- Fluvastatin (Lescol XL)
- Lovastatin (Altoprev)
- Pitavastatin (Livalo)
- Pravastatin (Pravachol)
- Rosuvastatin (Crestor, Ezallor)
- Simvastatin (Zocor, FloLipid)
When taking statin medications, be sure to take them only as directed and do not cease taking them without medical consultation.
The drugs are only effective as long as you are taking them so to avoid a spike in cholesterol, consult a healthcare professional before stopping the medication.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Alcohol and Heart Health: Separating Fact from Fiction. (2022).
Cholesterol Lowering Drugs. (2021).
High Cholesterol Facts. (2021).
Muscle and statins: from toxicity to the nocebo effect. (2019).
Recommendations from the Statin Intolerance Expert Panel. (2014).
Red Wine Consumption and Cardiovascular Health. (2019).
Sex Differences in the Use of Statins in Community Practice. (2019).
Statin therapy exacerbates alcohol-induced constriction of cerebral arteries via modulation of ethanol-induced BK channel inhibition in vascular smooth muscle. (2017).
3 Myths About Cholesterol-Lowering Statin Drugs. (2022).