Alcoholic beverages primarily consist of water, pure alcohol (ethanol), and different amounts of carbohydrates (sugars). Each gram of pure alcohol contains approximately 7 calories as compared to 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate. The calories in alcohol are called empty calories because alcohol does not contain vital nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins or minerals needed for the functioning of the body.
The number of ways that alcohol causes nutrition deficiencies are listed below:
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it flushes water out of the system. Along with water it may also flush out water-soluble vitamins and some trace minerals. This is not a problem for someone who drinks occasionally. But with regular alcohol consumption, the deficiencies can become severe and begin to add up over time.
Alcohol also has a corrosive effect on the stomach and small intestinal lining, thereby inhibiting the absorption of nutrients. Damage to the gut lining may take months and years or repair.
Some microorganisms in the gut are essential for absorbing nutrients and making them available to the rest of the body. These microbes can get damaged by continuous exposure to alcohol.
People who consume a high percentage of calories from alcohol are usually deficient in the micronutrients (vitamins & minerals) and the macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins & fats) that the body needs.
Alcohol is processed in the body by the liver. Chronic consumption therefore can cause damage to the liver. The liver is also responsible for absorbing many nutrients the body needs. So when it gets overworked breaking down the alcohol consumed regularly, it is unable to process important nutrients from food and make them available to the body.
Alcohol causes an insulin spike since it is a highly refined sugar. This can lead to cravings for sugary and fatty foods. Also, calories consumed with alcohol are processed and stored as fat.
Regular consumption of large quantities of alcohol may cause insulin to remove not just the excess blood sugar, but also amino acids the body needs, causing deficiencies. This can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes over time and cause inflammation in the pancreas.
Alcohol use hampers memory recall and retention.
It can impede muscle growth and prevent muscle recovery.
Symptoms of alcohol-induced nutrient deficiencies are wide-ranging and can affect many different areas of life. Some symptoms are:
Struggling with memory or worsening mental health
Anxiety, depression and insomnia caused by withdrawal from the consumption of alcohol
Low energy and fatigue
Fluctuating weight gain or weight loss
Not sleeping enough or sleeping too much
It is important to eat balanced meals consisting of real foods and avoid refined and processed foods. However, nutrition alone is not sufficient to fix the alcohol-induced nutrient deficiencies. The alcohol detoxification stage is complicated and requires careful monitoring, medications and support. It is important to receive professional help for addiction immediately. It helps to provide a safe and supportive environment that is essential in helping to stop drinking so that the body can begin to heal and absorb nutrients once again.