Can you drink alcohol when taking statins?
Statins, such as atorvastatin, are prescription drugs that lower the blood’s low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels.
LDL is the “bad cholesterol” that can build up in your blood vessels and form a plaque along the walls. Too much plaque can narrow or block the blood vessels. This can lead to peripheral artery disease, heart attack, or stroke.
Statins block cholesterol production in the liver and remove some LDL cholesterol. The lower the LDL levels in your body, the lower your risk of heart and blood vessel diseases. As statins work in your liver, they can — as with alcohol — cause liver damage.
However, experts say it is rare for statins to cause liver damage.
What are statins?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved seven single-ingredient statins.
- atorvastatin (Lipitor)
- fluvastatin (Lescol)
- lovastatin (Mevacor)
- Lovastatin extended-release (Altoprev)
- Pitavastatin (Livalo)
- rosuvastatin (Crestor)
- simvastatin (Zocor)
Statins are also available combined with other medications:
- lovastatin and niacin extended-release (Advicor)
- simvastatin and niacin extended-release (Simcor)
- simvastatin and ezetimibe (Vytorin)
Is it safe to drink alcohol while taking statins?
The body processes alcohol and statins in the liver, and both can damage the liver. Consuming a lot of alcohol while taking statins may damage the liver.
However, studies suggest statins are generally safe for people with liver disease.
In fact, some reports indicate statins may benefit people with advanced liver disease and may even slow the progression of some liver diseases.
However, high alcohol consumption can increase your risk of developing statin side effects, including damage to muscle tissue, called myopathy.
According to a 2017 study, statins — particularly atorvastatin (Lipitor) — may increase blood vessel constriction in the brain caused by high alcohol use. This constriction of blood vessels in the brain can cause strokes.
The current recommendation for alcohol consumption is no more than:
- one drink per day for women
- two drinks per day for men
This recommendation stands regardless of whether you take statins or not.
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What should you avoid while taking statins?
You can consider the following recommendations when using statins:
- Avoiding high alcohol consumption: The combined effects of alcohol and statins may damage your liver or increase the side effects of either statins or alcohol.
- Monitoring alcohol intake: If you drink alcohol, stick to the recommended amounts.
- Telling your doctor about other drugs or supplements: Some medications, such as fibrates, can interact with statins.
- Avoiding grapefruit or grapefruit juice: These contain compounds that may reduce the effectiveness of statins.
Does alcohol affect cholesterol levels?
Alcohol affects almost every part of your liver’s functions. It can lead to a buildup of fat in the liver, and a so-called fatty liver can develop.
A high alcohol intake reduces the liver’s ability to process cholesterol and other fats, which may affect the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream.
Doctors prescribe statins to treat high cholesterol.
Experts generally consider it safe to take statins and drink alcohol in moderation. However, taking statins alongside a high alcohol intake may increase the side effects of both.
Possible complications include liver damage, muscle damage, and increased blood pressure in the brain.
- Aishwarya A, et al, (2022). Statins in alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and chronically elevated liver enzymes. https://www.scirp.org/journal/paperinformation.aspx?paperid=118461
- Bosch J, et al. (2020). Cirrhosis as a new indication for statins. https://gut.bmj.com/content/69/5/953
- Ramkumar S, et al. (2016). Statin therapy: Review of safety and potential side effects. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5126440/
- Ratchford EV, et al. (2017). Statins. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1358863X17722212
- Simakova MN, et al. (2017). Statin therapy exacerbates alcohol-induced constriction of cerebral arteries via modulation of ethanol-induced BK channel inhibition in vascular smooth muscle. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5788006/
- Statins. (2014). https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/statins
- You M, et al. (2018). Effects of alcohol on lipid metabolism. https://www.journal-of-hepatology.eu/article/S0168-8278(18)32521-2/fulltext