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Alcohol and Nutrition: Does Chronic Drinking Cause Nutrient Deficiency?

Alcohol and Nutrition: Does Chronic Drinking Cause Nutrient Deficiency?

When it comes to alcohol and nutrition, the two don’t generally mix well when we teeter on the edge of chronic alcohol consumption.

Article At A Glance:

Besides alcohol taking up a large portion of a heavy drinker’s diet, it also causes us to neglect the basic dietary requirements we need to remain healthy.

On top of this, even if we attempt to eat healthily, chronic alcohol consumption impacts our ability to properly absorb these nutrients, ultimately leading to deficiency.

Although we may not be concerned with this problem when we drink, understanding alcohols impact on nutrition can be a fundamental starting point towards getting sober.  

Alcohol and Nutrition:  It’s Impact In A Nutshell

Chronic alcohol intake causes us to be deficient in an array of nutrients through impaired absorption, decreased metabolism, poor utilisation, and frankly, from low quality food choices while intoxicated.

Alcohol inhibits mobilisation of fat – Drinking has been shown to reduce lipid oxidation (fat burning) rate by about 30%, meaning alcohol may hinder weight loss (Suter, Schutz, & Jequier, 1992). Mind you, this study was done in non-alcoholic healthy subjects, so this number could be higher in chronic drinking.

Alcohol impairs healthy blood sugar control – This means alcohol impacts our ability to regulate glucose levels in our body, which leads to an increased risk of diabetes, liver cirrhosis, and weight gain (Leggio, Ray, Kenna, & Swift, 2009).

Alcohol affects protein metabolism – Alcohol can lead to us having deficiencies in protein, or more particularly, essential amino acids (De Feo et al., 1995), the small building blocks found collectively in protein. This means that alcohol overall impacts our ability to maintain and build healthy muscle, and in fact, chronic consumption leads to muscle atrophy (Preedy et al., 1999).

Alcohol causes deficiency in micronutrients – Chronic exposure to alcohol also impacts our micronutrient status, such as Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Zinc, Iron and an array of B vitamins needed for energy production.

Let’s look a little deeper on the micronutrients alcohol impacts, and why this could be a problem.

Alcohol and Micronutrient Deficiency

Chronic drinking has a huge impact on our micronutrient status, which is commonly through impaired absorption of various vitamins, and increased urinary excretion of minerals.

Micronutrient deficiency also tends to rise purely through decreased dietary intake, which is quite common in alcohol abuse, as food choices also tend to be poor.

Below is a non-comprehensive list of some vitamins and minerals that can be impacted in chronic exposure to excessive alcohol intake.

B1 (Thiamine) Deficiency – Exposure to alcohol impairs utilisation and absorption of thiamine, an important vitamin involved in pathways required for building protein, DNA synthesis and cellular brain function (Butterworth, 1995).

B9 (Folate) Deficiency – Alcohol impairs absorption, increases urinary excretion and reduces uptake and storage of folate (Halsted et al., 2002). Folate is absolutely critical for the formation of red and white blood cells and helps with the production of DNA in the body.

B12 (Cyanocobalamin) Deficiency – Our ability to absorb B12 in the intestines is greatly reduced during chronic alcohol consumption (Fragasso et al., 2010). B12 is also required for red blood cell and DNA formation and is also extremely important for brain and nerve cell health.

Vitamin B Complex RecommendationHerbs of Gold B Complex

Vitamin A Deficiency – Chronic exposure to alcohol can cause our liver to secrete less bile and pancreatic enzymes, both required for adequate digestion of Vitamin A (and other nutrients too!). Lower levels of Vitamin A can cause night blindness, and is also important in immune system function and promoting growth and development (Clugston & Blaner, 2012).

Vitamin A Product RecommendationBlackmores Vitamin A

Zinc Deficiency – Alcohol increases urinary excretion of zinc, and chronic alcohol intake impairs our ability to transport zinc in the body through alterations in ZIP transporter function (Sun et al., 2014). A deficiency in Zinc greatly impacts cellular immunity and contributes to an increased risk of infection.

ArticleLearn more about Zinc here
Zinc Product Recommendation
Fusion Zinc Advanced

Magnesium Deficiency – Lower levels of magnesium in chronic drinkers are common due to malnutrition and a disturbance in electrolyte balance. Low Magnesium can cause depression, and cause fatigue, weakness and hyper excitability. Magnesium deficiency has also been shown to increase liver damage caused by alcohol (Poikolainen & Alho, 2008).

ArticleLearn more about Magnesium here
Magnesium Product Recommendation
Fusion Magnesium Advanced

As mentioned earlier, this list is not comprehensive, as the array of potential micronutrient deficiencies is long when it comes to chronic alcohol abuse.

Other micronutrients to consider include B6 (Pyridoxine), Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium.

Restoring Micronutrient Deficiency

Well, firstly, if you haven’t already, or are strongly thinking about it, getting sober would be the first and foremost thing to do.

I highly recommend reading these articles to get you started:

The second step is to get your nutrient levels tested through a functional medicine or naturopathic practitioner.

It’s important to understand what you’re actually deficient in, to then know what to supplement with.

Although the more “shotgun” approach does work in most instances, if you’re throwing down supplements you don’t necessarily need, you could save a bit of money in the long run.

The last step is to manage your cravings, which can often be the tough part when it comes to early sobriety.

I highly recommend reading these articles to help with cravings:

Following this three-step process will get you on the right track to not only living an alcohol-free life, without limits but also feeling great and healthy.

Clarity is here to help, so please use the resources we offer, and if you have any questions, do reach out.


  • Butterworth, R. F. (1995). Pathophysiology of alcoholic brain damage: Synergistic effects of ethanol, thiamine deficiency and alcoholic liver disease. Metabolic Brain Disease, 10(1), 1-8.
  • Clugston, R. D., & Blaner, W. S. (2012). The adverse effects of alcohol on vitamin A metabolism. Nutrients, 4(5), 356-371.
  • De Feo, P., Volpi, E., Lucidi, P., Cruciani, G., Monacchia, F., Reboldi, G., Santeusanio, F., Bolli, G. B., & Brunetti, P. (1995). Ethanol impairs post-prandial hepatic protein metabolism. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 95(4), 1472-1479.
  • Fragasso, A., Mannarella, C., Ciancio, A., & Sacco, A. (2010). Functional vitamin B12 deficiency in alcoholics: An intriguing finding in a retrospective study of megaloblastic anemic patients. European Journal of Internal Medicine, 21(2), 97-100.
  • Halsted, C. H., Villanueva, J. A., & Devlin, A. M. (2002). Folate deficiency, methionine metabolism, and alcoholic liver disease. Alcohol, 27(3), 169-172.
  • Leggio, L., Ray, L. A., Kenna, G. A., & Swift, R. M. (2009). Blood glucose level, alcohol heavy drinking, and alcohol craving during treatment for alcohol dependence: Results from the combined Pharmacotherapies and behavioral interventions for alcohol dependence (Combine) study. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 33(9), 1539-1544.
  • Poikolainen, K., & Alho, H. (2008). Magnesium treatment in alcoholics: A randomized clinical trial. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 3(1).
  • Preedy, V. R., Reilly, M. E., Patel, V. B., Richardson, P. J., & Peters, T. J. (1999). Protein metabolism in alcoholism: Effects on specific tissues and the whole body. Nutrition, 15(7-8), 604-608.
  • Sun, Q., Li, Q., Zhong, W., Zhang, J., Sun, X., Tan, X., Yin, X., Sun, X., Zhang, X., & Zhou, Z. (2014). Dysregulation of hepatic zinc transporters in a mouse model of alcoholic liver disease. American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 307(3), G313-G322.
  • Suter, P. M., Schutz, Y., & Jequier, E. (1992). The effect of ethanol on fat storage in healthy subjects. New England Journal of Medicine, 326(15), 983-987.

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