Vitamin Deficiency In Alcoholics: Which Nutrients Are Missing?

Throughout the years, various studies have proven that exaggerated alcohol consumption can result in serious health issues.

People addicted to alcohol are very often deficient in a number of crucial vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, thiamine, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, calcium, and iron.

Can these nutrients be supplemented in any way in order to avoid more serious health problems? And are there any nutrients that help reduce alcohol abuse?

Causes of Nutrient Deficiency in Alcoholics

Chronic alcoholics are usually prone to an unhealthy lifestyle which involves an inadequate diet. But even though poor diet is the main cause of vitamin deficiency in alcoholics, there are other factors involved.

Excessive alcohol intake affects the absorption of all vitamins, many of which are crucial for cell restoration and normal bodily functions.

Besides nutrient absorption, alcohol can have an influence on the metabolism, storage, and activation of the above-mentioned nutrients.

In order to process alcohol, the body uses stored nutrients. When the liver uses up all of these nutrients in order to process the large amounts of alcohol, it will start relying on nutrients stored elsewhere in the body.

What Vitamins And Minerals Are Typically Deficient?

Vitamin A and other fat-soluble vitamins

Vitamin A is part of the group of fat-soluble vitamins, along with vitamins D and E. In order to be utilized by the body, these vitamins need to be dissolved into fat molecules. Alcohol obstructs this absorption of fats, which can cause serious problems.

Vitamin A deficiency can lead to a development of fatty liver, which is an early stage of liver disease. If this condition is left untreated, the individual will eventually develop cirrhosis, a very serious disease which may require a liver transplant.

Low levels of vitamin D can lead to bone softening and osteoporosis, whereas vitamin E deficiency can cause nerve problems.

B vitamins

Excessive alcohol consumption also destroys all B vitamins – B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B9, and B12.

The deficiency in vitamin B1 can result in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS). According to the research conducted by Peter R. Martin and co-workers on thiamine deficiency, autopsy results have shown signs of brain disease related to the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome in 13% of alcoholics.

WKS is actually a combination of two disorders. The first one is Wernicke’s encephalopathy which causes eye nerve paralysis, impaired movements, and confusion.

The second disorder is Korsakoff’s psychosis. The symptoms of this part of the disease are abnormal behavior and memory problems. Luckily, if the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is diagnosed on time, it can be treated with injected or oral doses of thiamine.

Alcohol can also cause vitamin B-12 depletion, which can lead to peripheral neuropathy, a nerve disease which manifests with pain in the extremities and tingling.

Minerals

Excessive alcohol intake can also lead to mineral deficiency, especially affecting calcium, zinc, and iron reserves.

  • Insufficient levels of calcium, also known as hypocalcemia, can result in bone disease.
  • Zinc deficiency can result in night blindness and skin lesions.
  • Alcohol abuse can result in gastrointestinal bleeding which, in turn, can lead to iron deficiency. Iron is necessary for the proper function of the red blood cells and its deficiency can result in anemia.

Other Health Problems Caused by Alcohol Abuse

Long-term alcohol abuse and inadequate diet can cause serious harm to the body.

Some of the health problems related to alcohol abuse are cardiovascular issues, including irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, or even heart attack and stroke.

A damaged liver can often develop into cirrhosis or liver inflammation known as alcoholic hepatitis.

Nutritional deficiencies caused by excessive alcohol intake can also affect the mental health, resulting in depression, chronic fatigue, and lethargy.

At the same time, the high-calorie count in alcohol can lead to excessive weight gain, even in non-alcoholics who consume alcohol on a regular basis.

In addition, alcohol abuse can cause pancreatitis (inflammation in the pancreas), stomach ulcers, disorders resulting from nerve damage, and sexual dysfunction (including impotence).

Finally, alcohol abuse in combination with malnutrition increases the risk of liver cancer, stomach cancer, and intestinal cancer.

Vitamins And Minerals That Reduce Alcohol Abuse

Heavy drinkers can reduce the harmful effects of alcohol on nutrition by committing to a regular eating and more balanced diet. Practicing good habits, and replacing alcohol with new habits can also help.

Nutritional deficiency in alcoholics typically requires an ongoing treatment supervised by a physician and/or a licensed dietician or nutritionist.

The research conducted by Dr. Roger Williams and colleagues concluded that adequate supplementation can be very effective in reducing alcohol abuse.

List of supplements with big benefits:

  • 500–1,000 mg vitamin C every time a person feels the need to consume alcohol (max. 10,000 mg a day);
  • 500–1,000 mg L-glutamine 3 times a day on an empty stomach;
  • Mineral supplements – calcium, magnesium, and zinc on a daily basis;
  • B-complex vitamins, including B1 supplements to prevent Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, in accordance with the doctor’s recommendation.
  • In addition, alcoholics who don’t get enough sunlight or eat vitamin D-enriched foods should take vitamin D supplements. However, since vitamin D supplements can interact negatively with certain prescription drugs, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional before taking these supplements.

Note: Vitamin A supplements aren’t recommended for alcoholics because when combined with alcohol, this vitamin can become toxic.

Still, even though nutritional supplementation can often help, the best choice for alcoholism is professional treatment.

Chronic alcoholics should consult a doctor for the best types of treatment available.

In Conclusion

People who are addicted to alcohol are prone to eating irregularly and in smaller amounts than they should. In addition, they don’t pay attention to the quality of the food they consume.

Such nutritional habits often lead to nutrient deficiencies and impairment in the absorption of nutrients. In the long term, this can cause serious health problems, ranging from cardiovascular diseases to various types of cancer.

For this reason, alcoholics need to increase the amount of food they consume to meet their daily needs and consider the intake of vitamin supplements.

Even people who are not addicted to alcohol but consume it regularly (more than one or two drinks a day), should speak with a healthcare professional about the need of taking supplements.

Aleksandra
Aleksandra
I'm a full-time writer & blogger focused on health and nutrition. I investigate topics that I find interesting and experiment with healthy ingredients in the kitchen. In my spare time, I like reading and playing with my daughter.
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