Statins are a class of prescription drugs prescribed by doctors to lower cholesterol, which is a major factor in heart disease and stroke. A connection between statins and alcohol has been firmly established. Liver enzymes may be increased by taking statins, but over time can potentially cause liver damage. Since alcohol can damage the liver as well through a build-up of fatty deposits, the combination of statins and alcohol is not recommended. Most doctors are careful about prescribing statins due to their potential impact on liver function.
Several prescription drugs, including atorvastatin, simvastatin, and lovastatin fall into the statin class of cholesterol-lowering drugs. Statins work by hindering the production of cholesterol in the body, and they may even reduce cholesterol that has built up in the walls of the arteries. A cholesterol build-up in blood vessels can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Liver abnormalities have been found in a very small percentage of those taking statin prescription drugs. These drugs can raise the levels of two liver enzymes in particular: alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST). Such abnormalities usually become apparent in the first three months of statin usage.
Alcohol can cause liver damage as well, which is why doctors do not recommend combining statins and alcohol. Excessive or prolonged use of alcohol can cause a build-up of fatty deposits in the liver that can lead to cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis is a condition in which healthy liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue and nodules that eventually impair liver function. This condition is generally caused by excessive alcohol use and hepatitis B and C, although there are other causes as well. A higher risk for liver cancer also results from cirrhosis of the liver.
The majority of doctors are extremely cautious about the use of statin drugs and their effects on the liver, and due to the connection between the use of statins and alcohol, many doctors do not even recommend moderate alcohol intake for patients taking statins. Liver damage can be a life-threatening condition, and since liver abnormalities frequently have no symptoms blood tests are needed to assess liver function. It is often suggested that liver function tests be taken prior to the use of statin drugs and within several months after the beginning of treatment. Many doctors order blood tests at regular intervals afterward to ensure that there are no abnormalities in liver function. A marked change in liver enzymes can indicate that the person should stop using statin medications.