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The Nutrients Lost While Drinking Alcohol

author image Janine Grant
A nutritionist and personal trainer for 15 years, Janine Grant earned a master's degree in nutrition and exercise physiology from Long Island University in 2001. In addition to consulting and writing, she currently works as an adjunct nutrition professor at various colleges.
The Nutrients Lost While Drinking Alcohol
Two people are drinking wine. Photo Credit John Rowley/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Moderate social drinking is defined as about two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. As long as you drink responsibly, social drinking might even have some health benefits. Chronic, excessive alcohol intake, on the other hand, can cause malnutrition, especially if your nutrient intake is already low. According to the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, excess alcohol keeps your body from absorbing or fully using just about all nutrients.

Thiamine Depletion Is Serious

Excessive drinking is notorious for causing deficiency in thiamine, or vitamin B-1, which is found mainly in whole or enriched grains, beans and seeds. Alcohol appears to reduce its absorption, increase its requirements and impede its conversion to the active form. Adequate thiamine is crucial for carbohydrate metabolism and the formation of ATP, the body’s energy currency. The deficiency disease, which affects the nervous system and the heart, is called beri-beri. Chronic alcoholism can result in a severe form of beri-beri called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a form of psychosis accompanied by memory loss and brain shrinkage. Very high doses of thiamine might treat this condition, at least to some degree, in the early stages.

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Folate for Healthy Cells

Folate, another B vitamin, is required for normal DNA synthesis in all cells, and the maturation of red blood cells. Fruits, vegetables and legumes are good sources. Folate deficiency causes a disorder called megaloblastic anemia. In early pregnancy, a deficiency can interfere with the formation of the embryo’s spinal cord. Folate goes through a series of metabolic steps in order to be activated. According to The Harvard School of Public Health, excessive alcohol intake blocks its absorption and interferes with its activation in the body. Alcohol-induced folate deficiency may also be related to certain cancers, especially of the breast and colon, and to liver damage.

Magnesium Affects the Whole Body

Excessive alcohol intake can deplete the body of many minerals, especially magnesium. Magnesium is an extremely important mineral that has hundreds of roles in the cells, including those of the neuromuscular and cardiac systems. Leafy green vegetables, avocados, beans, seeds and nuts are good sources. High alcohol intake is a major cause of magnesium depletion from the body’s tissues, including brain tissue. Chronic deficiency can lead to high blood pressure, muscle cramps, headaches, diabetes, osteoporosis and anxiety. Further, according to a study published in 2013 in the “Scottish Medical Journal,” magnesium is involved with the proper functioning of thiamine in the body.

Water and Other Nutrients

A well-known effect of drinking is dehydration because alcohol is a diuretic. Water is an important nutrient that must be replaced every day. Dehydration is probably one of the factors in some hangover symptoms such as headache and fatigue. Proper hydration is needed for cellular functions, including the metabolism of carbohydrate, protein and fat. According to the National Institutes of Health, alcohol also contributes to loss and malabsorption of the fat-soluble vitamins -- A, D, E and K. Vitamin C deficiency is also common in heavy drinkers. In other words, all nutrients are susceptible to loss when you drink alcohol.

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