Alcohol and Vitamin Deficiency

Most of us know alcohol is a toxin, but how much does it really harm our bodies?

Alcohol can lead to malnutrition from inadequate nutrient intake or by causing problems with storage, absorption, or metabolism of nutrients in the body. 

The nutrients most commonly affected by chronic alcohol use are Thiamine, vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin A.

Keep reading for more information and to learn how Bridging the Gaps works with clients to treat these deficiencies.

B Vitamins

B vitamins are water soluble vitamins responsible for many essential functions in our bodies.  Because B vitamins are water soluble, any excess consumed is excreted in our urine, so it is important that we consume adequate amounts everyday to avoid deficiency.  The B vitamins most commonly affected by alcoholism are Thiamine (B1), B6, and Folate (B9). 

Thiamine is responsible for the growth and development of cells in the human body.  It is an essential nutrient, meaning our bodies cannot produce Thiamine on their own, it must be consumed in our diet.  Food sources of Thiamine include pork, whole grains, legumes, and fortified cereals.

Vitamin B6 is responsible for amino acid balance and immune function.  It is also an essential nutrient.  Skin rashes, cracked lips, and impaired immune function are all signs of B6 deficiency.  Food sources of vitamin B6 include some dairy products, meats, and eggs.

Folate, another essential nutrient, is important in cell growth and function, and specifically for red blood cell formation.  Folate can be found in leafy green vegetables, some beans and legumes, cruciferous vegetables, and fortified cereals.

Diseases of Deficiency

Thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency is especially common in those suffering from alcoholism and can cause a form of the disease Beriberi.  Symptoms of this disease include loss of appetite, weakness, shortness of breath, and swelling or pain in the extremities.  Beriberi occurs in two forms, wet and dry. Wet Beriberi is a disease of the heart and circulatory system while dry Beriberi affects the central nervous system.  Wernicke Encephalopathy is a form of dry Beriberi, and is the form of Thiamine deficiency most commonly seen in alcoholics.  Wernicke Encephalopathy presents with confusion, tremors, vision changes, and memory issues.  Left untreated, chronic thiamine deficiency can cause irreversible damage to the brain and may progress to Korsakoff Syndrome which is a chronic memory disorder.

Folate deficiency can cause a form of anemia called megaloblastic anemia or folate-deficiency anemia.  Megaloblastic anemia causes red blood cells to change in size and shape.  Symptoms include decreased appetite, loss of energy, diarrhea, pale skin, and irritability.  Folate-deficiency anemia during pregnancy may lead to a neural tube defect.

It is important to prioritize vitamin intake through supplementation and a diet rich in whole foods to avoid these health conditions. 

Vitamin A

Vitamin A deficiency is also commonly seen in those with chronic alcohol abuse.  We consume beta carotene which is a precursor our bodies use to create vitamin A.  Beta carotene is a red-orange pigment and is found in foods like carrots, squash, bell peppers, and tomatoes.  The more vibrant the color of these foods, the more beta carotene they contain.  Preformed vitamin A can also be consumed and is found in meat, fish, and dairy.  

Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that is stored in our bodies.  Alcohol abuse can deplete retinoid stores in the body leading to a vitamin A deficiency, regardless of intake.  Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency include night blindness and xerophthalmia, a condition which causes the eyes to become dry and crusted. 

Treatment

Luckily, all of these vitamin deficiencies can be treated and their damage fully or mostly reversed.  Through supplementation as well as proper diet and hydration the deficiency can be resolved and its negative effects repaired.  Supplementation can occur through oral nutrient supplements or injections.  It is also important to note that alcohol consumption needs to be stopped in order to properly treat these deficiencies.

How Can We Help?

At Bridging the Gaps we strive to implement all dimensions of health into our treatment.  All clients are encouraged to take their personalized nutrient packs which contain essential vitamins and minerals they may be deficient in.  We also provide nutrition education and activity groups as well as individual nutrition counseling.  BTG prioritizes healthy whole foods and realistic meals and encourages clients to be well in every aspect of their lives. 

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