Our bodies require certain nutrients to function properly. These nutrients are drawn from a variety of foods in our diet. However, those who drink alcohol in excess often fail to receive the nutrients their bodies need. 

Research shows that moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits, however it is important to know the risks of excessive consumption. Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as no more than one drink per day for individuals assigned female at birth, and 1-2 drinks per day for those assigned male at birth (American Heart Association). 

Excessive drinking over time, or even on a single occasion, can have serious impacts on your nutrition status and overall health. Alcohol consumption at high levels influences the metabolism of the nutrients consumed. Alcohol and it’s metabolism prevent the body from appropriately absorbing and digesting nutrients, resulting in frequent deficiencies. 

Most of the detoxification of alcohol occurs in the liver. Excessive alcohol intake can be damaging to the liver and can lead to inflammation and scarring as the liver tries to repair itself. When we drink alcohol, our bodies give priority to metabolizing it and other digestive processes are abandoned. Even if the individual consumes sufficient fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, deficiencies may still occur. This is due to poor absorption, nutrients not being digested properly, and/or are not used effectively by the body’s cells. As a result, malnutrition is common among individuals who drink alcohol in excess. 

Individuals who frequently drink in excess tend to have deficiencies in certain vitamins, particularly vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine), and C (ascorbic acid), as well as folic acid. Vitamin B deficiencies are extremely common because the liver uses these vitamins in alcohol metabolism. The B vitamins are important for normal functioning, and deficiencies cause nerve and brain damage. Vitamin C can help repair and regenerate tissues. Folic acid is important for red blood cell formation. These vitamins are essential to our bodies for normal functioning, and excessive alcohol intake interferes immensely. 

Proteins are crucial components to all cells. They help with the cell structure, transportation of substances in and out of the cell, and act as enzymes within the cell. Protein metabolism occurs in the liver and is compromised in an individual with liver failure secondary to alcohol abuse. A decrease in the breakdown and the production of proteins by the liver will occur, resulting in lower amounts of important proteins secreted into the blood. Alcohol has also been shown to interfere with the uptake of essential amino acids (certain building blocks of proteins that must be acquired through the diet). This can have serious health effects, such as muscle wasting and a decreased immune system. 

Over time, alcohol-related damage can lead to serious and even fatal consequences. Health complications include alcoholic liver disease, pancreatitis, stomach ulcers, increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as mental health related issues. Nutrition problems secondary to alcohol abuse can be avoided if alcohol is enjoyed responsibly and your consumption does not exceed the daily recommended limits

Interested in learning more? Schedule an appointment with a certified nutritionist to get support on your future journey to body and mind health.

Written by our team here at Starkel Nutrition.

References:

  1. “Alcohol and Heart Health.” American Heart Association, 2015, www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Alcohol-and-Heart-Health_UMC_305173_Article.jsp#.WoWjcdKWyii.
  2. “Can Alcohol Deplete the Body of Nutrients?” Healthy Eating, SF Gate, healthyeating.sfgate.com/can-alcohol-deplete-body-nutrients-9335.html.
  3. Lieber, Charles S. “Relationships Between Nutrition, Alcohol Use, and Liver Disease.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2014, pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-3/220-231.htm.
  4. Peter R. Martin, M.D., Charles K. Singleton, Ph.D., and Susanne Hiller-Sturmhofel, Ph.D. (2004) “The Role of Thiamine Deficiency in Alcoholic Brain Disease.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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