Your body needs protein to survive. Protein is essential for DNA replication, cellular repair, enzyme synthesis and growth. Although your diet has a great impact on your body's protein supply, your ability to absorb dietary protein also plays a significant role. Alcohol can affect the way your body absorbs and utilizes protein, and even moderate consumption can lead to decreased protein absorption.
Absorption is the process by which your body takes up nutrients from the foods and beverages you consume. The absorption of most nutrients takes place in your small intestine; however, your body readily absorbs alcohol through both the stomach lining and the small intestine. Unlike alcohol, which your body does not need to digest prior to absorption, protein must be broken down into amino acid subunits before absorption can occur. Your body can then use the absorbed amino acids to re-synthesize proteins, repair damaged cells or form hormones.
Alcohol and Protein
Consuming alcohol can negatively affect your body's ability to absorb and utilize protein. Alcohol can decrease the secretion of pancreatic enzymes that break proteins down into amino acids, thereby resulting in the inability to effectively absorb protein. Additionally, alcohol can reduce absorption by damaging the epithelial cells that line your stomach and small intestine. These cells are responsible for the absorption of protein. Although many nutritional consequences of alcohol use occur in chronic alcoholics, decreased protein absorption can occur even with moderate alcohol consumption of two to three drinks.
When to Cut Back
Consuming alcohol in moderate amounts can be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Moderate alcohol consumption consisting of one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men may even offer benefits, such as lowering your risk for coronary heart disease. Generally, drinking alcohol in moderation should not cause concern over protein absorption, mostly because the average American consumes much more protein than necessary and your body can absorb it at other times throughout the day. Consuming more than the recommended amounts of alcohol, however, may compromise your body's absorption of protein and other essential nutrients.
Protein is not the only nutrient alcohol affects. Alcohol can decrease your body's absorption of dietary fat and a number of vitamins, such as vitamins A, C and D and various B-vitamins. Fat malabsorption and vitamin deficiencies can cause further problems with nutrient absorption, especially for minerals such as calcium, zinc and iron. Moderate alcohol consumption does not appear to increase your risk for nutritional deficiencies; however, chronic alcohol use can result in both decreased nutrient absorption and decreased food intake, possibly leading to malnutrition, liver disease and other health conditions.
- Princeton University: Alcohol
- Contemporary Nutrition; Gordon M. Wardlaw and Anne M. Smith
- National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol Alert
- The Journal of Nutrition; Alcohol and Amino Acid Transport in the Human Small Intestine; Y. Israel et al.