Alcoholism and Vitamin Deficiency
Alcoholism and vitamin deficiency go hand in hand. An alcoholic’s diet is usually poor; they don’t get the balanced nutrition their bodies need including the right amount of vitamins. Combine this with the high consumption of alcohol, which leads to the body’s inability to absorb vitamins. For alcoholics, the complex system of nutrition is compromised, leading to an array of health issues.
What is Nutrition?
Here is a straightforward definition of nutrition from a Virginia college website: “Nutrition is the science of food, the nutrients in foods and how the body uses those nutrients. It includes the process of ingestion, digestion, absorption, metabolism, transport, storage and excretion of those nutrients.”
Alcohol and the Compromised Process
After you eat, your food is broken down during digestion into energy for your body’s maintenance. The food is digested in the stomach, intestines and pancreas. The nutrients from the food are absorbed from the intestines into the blood and then transported to the liver. The liver will then release these nutrients for use right away or store them for later use.
However, the alcohol in your body prevents the breakdown of these nutrients by decreasing digestive enzymes. Alcohol also compromises nutrient absorption by damaging cells in the stomach and intestines, prohibiting some nutrients to the bloodstream.
This whole process eventually snowballs with nutrient-deprived organs like the stomach unable to absorb future nutrients as efficiently. Alcohol can also prevent absorbed nutrients from being properly transported, stored and/or excreted.
Alcoholism and Vitamins
Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that occurs naturally in foods like fruits, grains and vegetables. It helps produce and maintain new cells. Excess alcohol decreases the absorption of folate into the intestines by altering the cells in the lining. This further impairs absorption of water and other nutrients. Alcoholics typically don’t have enough folate in their diets.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) aids the central nervous system. Your body uses it to process fats, carbs and proteins. An alcoholic’s body is unable to properly absorb Thiamine leading to a deficiency. This deficiency can lead to Beriberi, a disease that causes lesions of nerves, general debility, and painful rigidity. Probably the worse result of thiamine deficiency is the brain disorder known as
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Korsakoff syndrome, or Korsakoff psychosis, tends to develop as Wernicke's symptoms go away. Wernicke's encephalopathy causes brain damage in lower parts of the brain called the thalamus and hypothalamus. Korsakoff psychosis results from damage to areas of the brain involved with memory.”
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is necessary for the production of red blood cells and for the maintenance of your hair, nails, and skin. It’s also important for cell growth. Alcohol inhibits the absorption of B2 into your system. Deficiency in B2 can play a role in the onset of anemia, carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines and cataracts.
Vitamin B6 is required for the proper functioning of the nervous and immune systems. It’s found in fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, and poultry. Alcohol promotes the loss of B6.
Vitamin B12 “is required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis,” according to the National Institutes of Health. Moderate and heavy alcohol consumption affects the levels of B12. Deficiencies can cause megaloblastic anemia, fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
Vitamin A is found in fruits, vegetables and some animals. It regulates the immune system, helps bone growth, reproduction, cell division, and vision. Excess alcohol can deplete the stores of vitamin A in the body. Also, alcoholics rarely get the required amounts of Vitamin A in their diets, causing a further depletion.
Vitamin D occurs in very few foods. It is, according to National Institutes of Health, “produced endogenously when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis.” It helps to strengthen the bones. Alcoholics become deficient in Vitamin D because alcohol inhibits fat absorption and the vitamin is often absorbed through fats in the diet.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps maintain cells. Some scientists think that Vitamin E may help prevent the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It may also protect against dangerous free radicals in cigarette smoke, air pollution, and the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
Alcoholism and vitamin deficiency is a one-two punch that keeps on hitting. First, the high consumption of alcohol inhibits the absorption of needed vitamins into your body. Second, most alcoholics have poor diets. They don’t get the required vitamins into their systems. These two causes end up affecting the entire body because so much of the body is interdependent. The results can be a number of painful, debilitating and even deadly effects.