Are alcoholics Susceptible to Nutrient Deficiencies-Really?

Nevertheless to mention, alcoholics tend to be malnourished for the given reason of following poor eating habits, often the consequence of consuming a considerable portion of their daily calories in the form of alcohol. Normally, digestion of the food starts in the mouth and continues in the stomach and intestines in the presence of different enzymes.

The nutrients obtained by the breakdown of the food are absorbed into the blood stream and are sent to the liver, where it decides either to use the nutrients immediately for metabolic processes or store them for future use.


Now, in the presence of alcohol, firstly it impairs absorption of nutrients into the blood by eroding the lining of the cells of stomach and intestine. Secondly, it further inhibits the metabolism of nutrients and their utilization by obstructing their movement, storage and excretion.

Generally, moderate drinkers (two drinks or less per day) seem to be at little risk for nutritional deficiencies, but a major concern is that alcohol’s effects on the digestion of food and utilization of nutrients may shift a mildly malnourished person toward severe malnutrition.

Deficiencies found in alcoholics include: amino acids, essential fatty acids, digestive enzymes, acetyl coenzyme A, niacin or B3, B6, B2, B12, folic acid, NAD, vitamins A, C, D, and K, magnesium, zinc, selenium and calcium.

Implications of nutritional deficiencies

These nutritional deficiencies lead to certain complications like

Liver Disease

One of the functions of the liver includes synthesis of vitamins from the compounds like carotenoids; damage to the liver affects the production of those vitamins leading to deficiencies. Moreover, alcohol itself is the cause for the liver damage but poor nutrition further worsens the situation.


Research suggests that malnutrition may increase the risk of developing alcoholic pancreatitis, but some research performed outside the United States links pancreatitis more closely with overeating.  Preliminary research suggests that alcoholism symptoms have a damaging effect on the pancreas may be exacerbated by a protein-deficient diet.

Impaired Brain Function

Malnutrition in alcoholics can result in severe and long term effects on brain function.  Especially, thiamine deficiency in alcoholic leads to Wernicke/Korsakoff syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by impaired muscle movement, memory loss and vision changes.

Birth Defects

Alcohol shows direct toxic effects on fetal development, causing birth defects, including fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes irreversible physical and mental disabilities.  Alcohol itself is toxic to the fetus but added alcoholic nutritional deficiency can affect fetal development.

Not only can nutritional deficiencies of an alcoholic mother adversely affect the nutrition of the fetus, but alcohol itself can also restrict nutrition flow to the fetus. The only way to avoid such complications is to stay way from it during pregnancy.

Renewed research focused on the nutritional aspects of alcohol abuse suggests, a role for nutritional therapy in alcoholism treatment may be quite beneficial.

Because, alcoholics frequently have poor nutritional status, which is further aggravated by alcohol’s effects on the body’s metabolism.

Management of Nutritional Deficiencies

  • As chronic intake of alcohol leads to reduced appetite and prevents absorption of vital nutrients, one might certainly be deficient of nutrients.
  • Dietary supplements are used to provide an instant boost to the depleted nutrient stores, quickly than taking food alone. They delay or lessen the harmful effects to some extent and should be taken supporting your diet.
  • To compensate the deficiencies, the supplementation includes vitamin B complex, vitamin C, selenium, magnesium, zinc, carnitine, glutamine, and glutathione.
  • Taking multivitamin &mineral supplements constituting all these nutrients in appropriate doses shall be a better option.
  • Vitamin B1 is presumed to be an obvious deficiency in alcoholics and should receive the dose within the RDA, 5-30 mg per day.
  • Vitamin A deficiency is an another prominent deficiency among them, and it should be prescribed within great safety margin, only to those who have a well–documented deficiency and who can stop or at least moderate their alcohol consumption, because both lower levels of vitamin A and excessive vitamin A levels can cause liver damage and other potential effects.
  • Taking antioxidants supplements can help relieve alcohol–induced oxidative stress in the liver cells which is the major culprit in the development of alcoholic liver disease.
  • It has been observed that the alcoholic suffering cirrhosis often had lower vitamin E levels in the liver (Leo et al. 1993) while without cirrhosis had normal range. Hence, supplementing with antioxidants such as vitamin E supplements might prove to be beneficial.

Making sure to utilize the possible aids within your reach to cut down the harm your causing to your body proves a sensible take when you cannot help quitting the habit.


  • Lieber, C.S. The influence of alcohol on nutritional status. Nutrition Reviews 46(7):241-254, 1988.
  • Korsten, M.A. Alcoholism and pancreatitis: Does nutrition play a role? Alcohol Health & Research World13(3):232-237, 1989.
  • Leo, M.A.; Kim, C.-I.; Lowe, N.; and Lieber, C.S. Interaction of ethanol with *-carotene: Delayed blood clearance and an enhanced hepatotoxicity. Hepatology 15(5):883-891, 1992.
  • Leo, M.A.; Rosman, A.S.; and Lieber, C.S. Differential depletion of carotenoids and tocopherol in liver disease. Hepatology 17(6):977-986, 1993.
  • Korsten, M.A.; Wilson, J.S.; and Lieber, C.S. Interactive effects of dietary protein and ethanol on rat pancreas: Protein synthesis and enzyme secretion.Gastroenterology 99(1):229-236, 1990.
  • Weinberg, J. Nutritional issues in perinatal alcohol exposure. Neurobehavioral Toxicology and Teratology 6(4):261-269, 1984.

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