Treating alcohol use disorder, sometimes called alcoholism, is a fantastic step. It’s the best way to restore health, productivity, and social and personal relationships. The process is not about quitting alcohol cold turkey but taking a gradual, medical approach to the condition. Unfortunately, there are a few side effects to navigate, which include possible vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin deficiencies with alcoholism show up as mild to unpleasant symptoms and can even derail your treatment. Taking the right action at the correct times, including supplementation, can help you lead a healthy life.
Why Do Vitamin Deficiencies Happen from Alcoholism and Excess Drinking?
Years of heavy alcohol use and a damaged liver go hand in hand. Most of the components of alcohol move from your stomach to your liver for processing. Your liver can only metabolize about 1 drink per hour. When alcohol is consumed in excess, the liver can’t keep up, leading to serious long-term complications.
A typical example is a buildup of fat production due to excess acetaldehyde, the substance that remains after the liver processes alcohol. This condition can limit the functionality of the liver, leading to diseases like alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure.
The liver is responsible for hundreds of processes in the body. For example, the liver synthesizes amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. It also stores fat-soluble vitamins for later use (sometimes as long as four years), especially when your diet is not up to scratch. So poor liver function can lead to missing vitamins. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to develop these five vitamin deficiencies with alcoholism.
1. Low vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Vitamin B1 or thiamine makes up one of the eight essential B vitamins and helps convert food into energy. It’s also responsible for cellular health, nerve health, heart health, and much more. Thiamine deficiencies are rare and hard to detect as they can cause symptoms similar to many chronic diseases. However, it’s common in people with or recovering from alcohol use disorder. Therefore, a doctor should check this as soon as possible.
Thiamine deficiency symptoms include:
Some people can also develop diseases like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome or beriberi. Studies also link heart disease and Alzheimer’s to B1 deficiencies.
2. Vitamin B12
The body uses vitamin B12 in a few different ways. It helps with creating DNA and red blood cell formation. B12 also plays a role in converting food to energy. Studies have linked B12 to a healthy heart, bones, fertility, and more. A damaged liver from alcohol use makes B12 absorption more complex, so it’s likely to develop a deficiency. Some common symptoms include low energy, anemia, headaches, depression, poor skin health, and much more. Over time, low B12 can affect fertility and heart health.
Zinc, along with iron and copper, is an essential trace mineral metabolized by the liver. It’s used in hundreds of processes in the body, including healing, immune health, and healthy skin and eyes. For men, zinc plays a role in testosterone production, the primary male sex hormone. You’ll find zinc in many healthy foods, including nuts, meats, fish, and dairy. The liver produces bile, which is necessary for breaking down foods for their vitamins. Poor liver production leads to reduced absorption of these essentials. Zinc deficiencies can lead to poor libido, dry skin, more colds, poor digestion, and many more health problems.
4. Vitamin C
If you’ve been knocking back glasses of OJ as a kid, it’s probably from everything you heard about vitamin C. Since it’s also present in many fruits, green vegetables, and fortified foods, deficiencies are rare. However, significant alcohol use over time reduces vitamin C levels. So not only can the liver process less of it, but excess alcohol also use often leads to poor diets. Vitamin C is one of the best antioxidants for the body, revitalizing the immune system, skin, bones, and teeth. Without vitamin C, absorbing minerals like iron is difficult. It’s also great for long-term protection against arthritis, heart disease, strokes, and certain cancers.
A lack of vitamin C can lead to poor skin health, brittle fingernails, fatigue, slow wound healing, and repeated infections.
5. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is responsible for healthy skin, eyes, and immune systems. It’s also known as retinol in many skincare products today. You can’t produce vitamin A on your own, so you’ll find it in fatty foods like meat, fish, and dairy. Though uncommon in Western societies, vitamin A deficiencies are more likely with liver disorders. Someone missing vitamin A will probably experience dry skin, hazy vision, night blindness, and a lower immune system. Studies also show a relationship between infertility and vitamin A deficiency in men and women. If you’re struggling with these symptoms, check your vitamin A levels.
Should You Supplement?
Supplements are pills, liquids, and other forms fortified with vitamins and minerals missing in our diets. About 77% of Americans take at least one supplement, mainly due to typical diets lacking vitamins and minerals. Usually, the more processed a food item is, such as many cheap frozen foods or fast-food, the less in essential vitamins and minerals it will contain. However, chronic alcohol use can lead to many of the same vitamin deficiencies, symptoms, and diseases mentioned above regardless of maintaining a good diet. Adding a supplement to alcohol use disorder may not help in the long run, especially if the user has a damaged liver. It’s like adding fresh oil to your car on top of bad oil.
It’s vital to begin treatment for alcoholism first, which can help restore liver health. Then, while you’re gradually reducing alcohol intake, for instance, using The Sinclair Method, a doctor can then recommend supplementation to treat both vitamin deficiencies and alcohol use disorder or excess drinking. For instance, the doctor will recommend high levels of B vitamins, along with A and C. Make sure all supplementation happens with the advice and guidance of a doctor, pharmacist, or both.
How Else Can You Fight Vitamin Deficiencies Arising with Alcoholism?
While on your journey of healing and drinking responsibly, you still need to get the right vitamins and minerals. As your alcohol consumption drops, the health of your liver can improve. In a few weeks, the liver begins to repair itself. Over several months, you’ll see a significant improvement. Your liver will start to perform better, but some extra steps will help.
A healthy, whole-food diet provides a natural supply of vitamins and minerals. Include lots of cruciferous vegetables, fish, and shellfish that contain Omega-3 and trace minerals. For dietary restrictions, nuts, seeds, and avocados are your best bet.
Incorporate foods that contain high levels of B vitamins, like nutritional yeast.
Stay away from excess sugars. These can cause a strain on your liver and keep up any existing inflammation.
Studies show intermittent fasting of at least 12 hours can also help reduce liver fat and restore function. It can also help with weight and hormone management.
Keep in mind that no two cases are the same. Work closely with your medical team to iron out any specifics or dangers to your health.
A happier, Healthier You
Vitamin deficiencies with alcoholism are common and sometimes expected. Not only will the liver lose function, but there is a less likely chance of someone with the condition having a healthy diet. The first step is to get help to control your drinking and stop it altogether. You can work with Alcure for a convenient, stress-free option that combines medication and support for the best results. Then, you can supplement and adopt healthier lifestyles to bring your body back to balance.