Drinking alcohol, even in moderation, can have profound effects on the way your body absorbs vitamin B-12 and, if you are deficient in this vitamin, your health may suffer. It is important to be aware of how your body absorbs vitamin B-12, as this knowledge can help you make an informed decision about the amount of alcohol you consume.
Vitamin B-12 Is Necessary for Life
Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient you need for two enzymatic reactions in the body. If you are deficient in vitamin B-12, these enzymatic reactions cannot occur, which could lead to a buildup of a compound called homocysteine. An increase in homocysteine is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Additionally, if a vitamin B-12 deficiency is severe, megaloblastic anemia can occur. Your best sources of vitamin B-12 are animal products such as beef, dairy, shellfish, salmon and eggs. The daily recommended intake of vitamin B-12 for healthy adults is 2.4 micrograms.
Alcohol’s Effect on the Stomach
Most people enjoy drinking alcohol, but even moderate amounts of alcohol consumption can have negative effects on the amount of vitamin B-12 you absorb. Moderate-to-severe chronic alcohol consumption can have damaging effects on your stomach lining, causing a condition called atrophic gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach. When this occurs, the cells of the stomach cannot do their job of making and secreting a substance called intrinsic factor, which enhances B-12's absorption. When intrinsic factor is negatively affect by alcohol, your body will not be able to absorb sufficient amounts of this nutrient, leading to vitamin B-12 deficiency.
Alcohol’s Effect on Diet
Although alcohol is considered to be an appetite stimulant, too much alcohol can have a negative effect on your diet. If you abuse alcohol, you are less likely to eat a healthy diet that has a variety of foods from all five food groups. You are also more likely to replace your meals with alcohol. Because of this, your diet may lack foods that are good sources of vitamin B-12.
You might also face a higher risk of other deficiencies, including folate, of vitamin B-9. And, of course, if you're not eating a balanced diet, you could miss out on other nutrients crucial for good health, including vitamin C, protein, dietary fiber and more.
Alcohol’s Two-Fold Effect
Without intrinsic factor or a diet that contains the recommended intake of vitamin B-12, the amount of vitamin B-12 found in the body is decreased. When this occurs, these signs and symptoms of a vitamin B-12 deficiency occur: fatigue, shortness of breath, tingling and numbness in the extremities, headache, dementia, disorientation, and loss of concentration and memory. In severe cases, a vitamin B-12 deficiency by permanently damage your nerves, leading to lifelong side effects.
- International Journal of Cancer; Alcohol Consumption and Chronic Atrophic Gastritis: Population-Based Study Among 9,444 Older Adults from Germany; Lei Gao et al
- Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism; Sareen S. Gropper et al
- Medical Nutrition from Marz; Russell B. Marz, R.B., N.D.
- Mayo Clinic: Vitamin B-12
- Harvard Health Publishing: Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky, harmful