Alcohol can lead to malnutrition
Excessive consumption of alcohol affects more than just one’s ability to think, speak and move – it also has lasting effects on the nutritional resources in the body.
Alcohol abuse creates an internal environment that predisposes individuals to malnutrition. Alcohol must be processed by the digestive system, which creates competition for limited nutritional resources that would normally nourish the body.
- The brain and the central nervous system are affected within minutes of consumption. First judgment, then muscular coordination and then sensory perception are affected.
- The liver is responsible for metabolizing or breaking down alcohol. Because alcohol is a toxin, even small amounts of alcohol cause fatty liver; long-term alcohol use can cause hepatitis and cirrhosis.
- When the liver must process alcohol, the ability for the body to maintain stable blood sugar levels is affected. Individuals with diabetes are at increased risk of a blood glucose crisis when using alcohol.
- Alcohol irritates the gastro-intestinal system; it increases acid secretion by the stomach which can injure the lining of the small intestine and interfere with the ability to absorb vital nutrients.
The alcohol-nutrient connection
One way alcohol consumption can affect nutrition status is by displacing healthier foods from the diet. Alcohol has a caloric value of seven calories/gram (more than either protein or carbohydrate at four calories/gram), but contains no vitamins, minerals, protein, fat or carbohydrate.
Excessive alcohol consumption can satisfy caloric requirements, but easily leads to malnutrition and anemia. Although alcohol in small doses is an appetite stimulant, larger amounts suppress hunger, which doubly deprives the body of nutrients.
- When alcohol is metabolized by the liver it uses niacin, thiamine (vitamin B1) and other B vitamins, which means that these vitamins are not available for other essential purposes.
- Alcohol also interferes with the absorption and storage of the vitamins B12, folacin and vitamin A. Alcohol may trigger the release of large doses of vitamin A into the bloodstream, causing a slight, temporary sharpness of vision followed by night blindness.
- Because alcohol is a diuretic that increases the output of urine, it can cause the loss of such water-soluble minerals such as zinc, magnesium and potassium. Zinc status appears to be particularly affected by alcohol and zinc deficiency interferes with the ability to taste and smell, further limiting dietary intake.
Frequent or problem alcohol use has serious nutritional implications that affect the overall health of the body. Alcohol uses valuable resources that the body needs to perform other essential functions. Alcohol displaces calories from nutrient-dense food with calories that contain zero nutrition, so body weight is not an indicator of good nutrition in those that consume alcohol to excess. It is likely that individuals who drink regularly will need nutritional monitoring by a professional to avoid possible long-term or irreversible damage to their health.