Some symptoms of alcohol abuse are familiar, such as nausea and vomiting, disorientation and altered behavior. Yet, many Maryland Recovery clients don’t know alcohol affects nutrition, too.
Excessive alcohol consumption depletes necessary nutrients and vitamins from your body. This, in turn, aggravates other symptoms of alcohol abuse and makes you feel miserable. The worse you feel, the more likely you are to seek relief from alcohol. Keeping your body healthy can protect you from this kind of temptation.
How Alcohol Affects Nutrition
Moderate drinking will not adversely affect your nutrition. Actually, some alcoholic beverages have health benefits when consumed responsibly. However, chronic drinking and alcoholism deplete several key nutrients and vitamins.
One of the most serious depletions is that of thiamine or vitamin B1. Vitamin B1 helps your body make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which it uses for energy. The vitamin also helps you metabolize carbohydrates, which are converted into energy. Thus, vitamin B1 deficiency can cause excessive fatigue.
Vitamin B1 deficiency has several other serious consequences. If left untreated, it can develop into beriberi, a disease that inflames the nerves and heart. Beriberi often causes paralysis, heart failure and severe damage to the circulatory system. If you experience shortness of breath, swollen limbs or rapid heart rate on a regular basis, you may already have beriberi.
Alcohol also depletes another B vitamin called folate. Folate deficiency causes malnutrition of red blood cells, which in turn causes forms of anemia. One condition commonly associated with folate deficiency is megaloblastic anemia. Megaloblastic anemia often occurs during pregnancy and interferes with an embryo’s spinal cord formation. For this and many other reasons, women who are, or plan to become, pregnant should not drink.
Even if your vitamin B levels remain normal, you may experience other deficiencies. Alcoholism commonly depletes vitamins A, C, D and E. Such deficiencies weaken your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to many illnesses and chronic conditions. For example, your body tissue and bones may start to break down and lose the ability to repair themselves. You might also notice symptoms of nerve diseases like peripheral neuropathy (nerve weakness).
Other Nutritional Deficiencies
The body depends heavily on minerals, such as iron, zinc and magnesium. Alcohol depletes these just like vitamins. Magnesium is especially vulnerable to depletion. Like vitamin B1 and folate, magnesium keeps your circulatory, cardiac and nervous systems healthy.
Without an adequate supply of magnesium, you could experience all kinds of symptoms. These include frequent headaches, mood swings, and anxiety, as well as chronic conditions such as diabetes and osteoporosis.
Even if you don’t experience any of the symptoms listed above, excessive alcohol use will dehydrate you. As your body loses water, you will experience several potentially serious conditions. For example, as your body’s water depletes, so does its glucose. As a result, you may develop hypoglycemia, which causes anxiety, shakiness and a feeling of “brain fog,” among other symptoms.
Consistent dehydration also keeps your liver from filtering toxins out of your body. This is why so many alcoholics develop liver problems like cirrhosis – and why some eventually need liver transplants.
Hormonal And Other Effects
Alcohol does more than deplete your nutrients. Heavy drinking or alcoholism takes a toll on your hormones, which negatively impact mood, appearance and other factors. For example, heavy drinking is often linked to being overweight because of the many extra calories in alcoholic beverages. Excessive alcohol consumption also raises levels of hormones such as estrogen, which contributes to breast tissue development and may raise women’s risk of breast cancer.
Alcoholism May Slowly Kill You
Alcohol use is linked to a number of cancers, including liver, colon, rectum, esophageal and breast. It has also been linked to various cancers of the mouth, throat and voice box, particularly among people who also use tobacco.
Inflamed organs find it more difficult to fight off cancer. In combination with the vitamin deficiencies discussed above, regular and heavy alcohol use will increase your risk for cancer. Alcohol abuse may also increase the risk that your cancer will metastasize easily and become harder to treat.
Dealing With The Nutritional Effects Of Alcoholism
When you enter an inpatient treatment facility like Maryland Recovery, the staff will ensure you receive the nutrition you need. You won’t be placed on a diet, but instead will be offered a wide variety of healthy foods. This way, your body will become used to depending on food for fuel instead of alcohol.
If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol abuse, please contact us today to speak to our highly specialized counselors and nutritionists to get the help you need.
Dr. Bhalavat is Board Certified in General Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, and provides inpatient evaluation and consultation services at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital, Maryland Recovery Partners, and Citizens Care & Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Bhalavat’s background includes treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and dementia.