A question from a reader: My doctor recently prescribed Lipitor for high cholesterol. I usually have 2 glasses of red wine each night with dinner. Is it safe for me to continue drinking wine if I’m on Lipitor?
This is a great question and I’m sure of interest to a lot of people, especially since Lipitor (atorvastatin) is one of the most widely prescribed medications in the world.
According to the official Lipitor package insert –- approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) –- Lipitor “should be used with caution in patients who consume substantial quantities of alcohol and/or have a history of liver disease.” Unfortunately, I was not able to find any “official” definition of what a “substantial quantity of alcohol” means either from the FDA or Pfizer, the drug company that sells Lipitor.
One of the side effects of Lipitor is a slight chance of liver damage. The Lipitor package insert recommends that a test of your liver function should be done prior to and at 12 weeks following both the start of therapy with Lipitor and any increase of dose, and periodically (for example, every six months) thereafter. If there are any changes in your liver function, drinking alcohol may make it worse.
Statins and Alcohol
In a podcast about the use of statins (the class of drugs that Lipitor is in), Dr. Gerald Gau, a professor of cardiology at the Mayo Clinic, responded to the following question about alcohol use and the statins:
Q: Can I have a beer or two and not worry about its effect if I'm taking statins?
A: “The answer is generally yes. Alcohol is related to liver disease. If you consume a lot of alcohol —- generous amounts of alcohol —- on a daily basis, your underlying liver disease changes, your liver function changes. Generally, what we say if somebody's drinking alcohol in a little bit more than moderation, or they have a history of prior liver disease, we start statins with great caution. We do it slowly, we follow their liver function.”
Drinking in Moderation
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines drinking in moderation as one alcoholic drink each day for women and two drinks for men. Regarding wine, one drink is five ounces. However, researchers who are studying the beneficial effects of alcohol on preventing heart disease define moderate drinking as up to two drinks each day for women and up to four drinks each day for men.
Talk to Your Doctor
You should let your doctor know that you drink wine each night and the amount. Your doctor knows your medical history and current health status and should be able to advise you about your alcohol use.
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