How Does Alcohol Affect Vitamin Absorption And Energy?

28 October 2023

Drinking Too Much Can Reduce Your Ability to Absorb Essential Vitamins and What You Can Do

The silent saboteur in your glass could be robbing you of essential nutrients, such as B and C vitamins; we explain how. Also, you will learn what you can do to mitigate the effects of vitamin deficiency.

It goes without saying that consuming alcohol regularly leaves you feeling tired and sluggish, often craving for coffee or an energy drink in a desperate attempt to make it through the day.

As we head to the holiday season, or if you are a drinker at the weekends and want to feel brighter, remember that low energy levels following heavy drinking can be caused by various factors:

  • Dehydration: Alcohol consumption can cause dehydration by reducing how much vasopressin your body produces. Vasopressin is a hormone that helps your body hold water. Fatigue is the most common symptom of dehydration.
  • Impaired sleep: Poor sleep (typically less than 7 hours per day) can also contribute to fatigue. Both short-term and long-term alcohol use can negatively affect sleep.

Alcohol is a sedative, meaning it causes relaxation and sleepiness. However, though it makes you fall asleep earlier, it can also impair your normal sleep cycle. Consequently, you will be more likely to sleep during the day, which you often try to control with caffeine. Sounds familiar?

  • Inflammation: The product of alcohol metabolism—acetaldehyde—increases inflammation in your liver, digestive tract and brain. Sustained inflammation can make you feel tired and sluggish.

In simple terms, your body considers alcohol a poison and responds by releasing inflammatory substances.

  • Impaired vitamin absorption: Alcohol can make it hard for your body hard to absorb essential vitamins; many of them are involved in releasing energy from the food you take.

Vitamin B deficiency in alcoholics

B vitamins are essential micronutrients. They help your body:

  • Release energy from food
  • Maintain healthy nervous system, skin, and eyes
  • Make haemoglobin (a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues)

The members of this class of water-soluble vitamins are:

  • Thiamin (vitamin B1)
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • Niacin (vitamin B3)
  • Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
  • Pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
  • Biotin (vitamin B7)
  • Folate (vitamin B9)
  • Vitamin B12

Your body does not store B vitamins (except vitamin B12). So, you need to get them from your diet.

Long-term alcohol users are more likely to develop deficiencies of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, biotin, and folate. Interestingly, though your liver stores vitamin B12 for years, its deficiency is relatively common.

According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF), up to 8 in 10 inviduals with alcohol addiction develop thiamine deficiency. Likewise, folate deficiency may be present in up to 80% of chronic alcoholics.

How alcohol can cause vitamin B deficiency

Several factors can lead to vitamin B deficiency in heavy drinkers. Of them, alcohol-induced impairment in absorption is most common.

Heavy and binge drinking reduces the absorption of thiamine, riboflavin, biotin, and folate from different parts of the intestine. Even moderate alcohol consumption can decrease vitamin B12 levels in women.

Alcohol damages the linings of the stomach and intestines. Most importantly, alcohol reduces the length of villi, small finger-like projections in the intestine that absorb nutrients.

Besides, your liver uses thiamine, niacin, and other B vitamins while processing alcohol. It means that your body cannot use these vitamins for other essential functions. Moreover, if you are already deficient in any of these nutrients, drinking can further worsen your condition.

Other possible causes of vitamin B deficiency include:

  • Taking too little food. Too much alcohol suppresses hunger, making you more likely to eat little food.
  • Poor food choices. You tend to eat foods high in salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats.

Vitamin C deficiency in alcoholics

Like B vitamins, vitamin C is a water-soluble micronutrient responsible for:

  • Protect cells and maintaining their health
  • Healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage
  • Wound healing

Vitamin C deficiency is common among long-term alcohol users. Researchers from the Eastern Virginia Medical School note that nearly half of individuals with alcohol addiction have severe vitamin C deficiency.

Nutritional advice for heavy drinkers

  • Eat little but often if you are struggling to eat a big meal.
  • Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and protein (meat, fish, and egg) in your diet.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Plan your diet ahead.

Note that the risk of deficiencies is significantly higher if more than 30% of your daily calories come from alcohol. The NHS recommends 2,000 calories a day for women and 2,500 for men.

So, if you are a man and consume more than 750 calories daily from alcohol, you are at a higher risk of malnutrition. For reference, this is roughly the number of calories you get from 5 small bottles (330 ml) of 5% beer.

Use this interactive calculator to find out alcohol units and calories of various alcoholic drinks.

Click here to learn more about eating well tips and healthy meal ideas.

How supplementation can help?

Vitamin supplements, particularly those containing B and C vitamins, can effectively mitigate the effects of micronutrient deficiencies in most users.

These supplements provide essential nutrients and antioxidants that neutralize the toxic products of alcohol. Most notably, experts recommend higher-dose vitamin B supplementation if you:

  • Are older with a long history of heavy drinking.
  • Are underweight.
  • Have symptoms of malabsorption, such as diarrhoea.
  • Have B vitamin deficiency symptoms, such as skin rashes, swollen tongue (glossitis), and ulcers.

The exact recommended doses of vitamins for alcohol users are unavailable currently. However, based on available research, we can safely say that it is best to take higher-dose oral supplements for optimal results.

They are better absorbed compared to lower-dose oral products, and they have fewer side effects.

Looking for a supplement to boost energy and maintain healthy levels of B and C vitamins?

Take our high strength liquid multivitamin supplement with more nutrients than any tablet supplement—Vitaliti.

Our premium multivitamin supplement replenishes essential vitamins depleted by long-term heavy drinking. It helps prevent deficiencies, and if you have one, it helps you heal faster.

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Eat Healthy Stay Active … with a little of what you fancy from time to time.