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Alcohol and Health

How Does Alcohol Affect Vitamin Absorption?

May 6, 2024
14 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
May 6, 2024
14 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
May 6, 2024
14 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
May 6, 2024
14 min read
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Reframe Content Team
May 6, 2024
14 min read

Vitamins and Alcohol: What Can We Do?

  • Vitamins are essential for the health of our body and brain. Alcohol both depletes the storage of vitamins in our body and prevents our digestive system from properly absorbing them.
  • After we stop drinking, certain vitamins, such as vitamins C and B complex, can help our body recover.
  • Want to take control of your health and vitamin levels? Reframe can help you quit or cut back on alcohol.

You’ve been taking B vitamins for weeks. Everyone tells you they’re supposed to give you more energy, but you’re still sluggish. “What’s the problem?” you wonder. “Did I get a bad batch?” 

There are several reasons why your vitamins may not be giving you the desired results — one factor is alcohol. Among the many effects of alcohol, we don’t hear much about it interrupting vitamin absorption, but it does! 

In this blog post, we will explore how our body absorbs vitamins and alcohol, and how the two interact.

Overview of Vitamins

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Vitamins are organic compounds that our body needs to maintain basic functions. There are two main categories of vitamins:

  • Water-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins don’t stay in the body for long as they can’t be stored. They quickly make their way into our urine, where they are expelled. As a result, they need to be replenished regularly. They are essential to the formation of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. These include vitamins C and the B complex (more on this later!). Water-soluble vitamins are essential for the brain health, immune function, and converting carbohydrates to energy.
  • Fat-soluble. These vitamins, including A, D, E, and K are stored in fatty tissue and the liver for days to months, depending on the vitamin. They are important for vision, bone health, immune function, and effective blood clotting.

Our body doesn’t produce most vitamins; we can produce vitamin D by being in the sun, and a small amount of vitamin K2 (essential for bone and heart health) is produced in our gut. All of the other vitamins must come from our diet or from supplements. Let’s dig into that next!

How Alcohol Is Absorbed 

About 20% of the alcohol we drink is absorbed into our bloodstream through our stomach, and the other 80% is absorbed by our small intestines. Once the alcohol is in our bloodstream, it travels everywhere blood goes — spoiler alert, that’s our whole body!

However, some parts of the body use more blood than others. For instance, the brain and the liver are the most blood-guzzling organs. The liver is where almost every substance and food that enters our body is metabolized — including alcohol.

The liver breaks alcohol down into a toxic byproduct called acetaldehyde. After that, it’s broken down into acetate and expelled from the body in our urine and breath. The alcohol metabolism process is taxing on the liver. Because alcohol and acetaldehyde are toxins, the liver focuses on eliminating those from our body and sets other things to the side — including food.

Vitamins and Alcohol: How Does Alcohol Use Impact Vitamins?

Drinking alcohol, especially in large amounts, disrupts the absorption of vitamins B1 (thiamine), B9 (folate), B12, A, and C. One study looked closely at vitamin C and alcohol and found that 42% of people with alcohol use disorder have severe vitamin C deficiencies.

Alcohol specifically interferes with vitamin absorption and storage in the following ways: 

  • Enzyme disruption. Alcohol consumption impairs the function of digestive enzymes that break down and absorb nutrients such as pancreatic enzymes. 
  • Gut irritation. Alcohol irritates and inflames the lining of the stomach and intestines. The inflamed and irritated tissue is not as effective at absorbing the vitamins from our food. 
  • Nutrient transport. Some vitamins use proteins or other substances to transport nutrients across the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. Alcohol can disrupt this transportation process and the vitamins won’t make it into our bloodstream or where they are needed. 
  • Liver Damage. Alcohol misuse or chronic alcohol use can damage our liver by physically taxing it and causing inflammation. As mentioned earlier, the liver processes just about every substance that enters our body, including food and the nutrients our food contains.
  • Vitamin depletion. The process of metabolizing alcohol is energy- and nutrient-intensive. It depletes the stored reserve of vitamin B1 (thiamine) and interferes with the metabolism of other B vitamins, especially folate and B12. 

Overall, chronic alcohol use can disrupt the absorption and metabolism of vitamins and lead to several vitamin deficiencies. 

Alcohol and Nutrient Malabsorption

Alcohol and Malabsorption

We learned that alcohol can prevent or disrupt vitamins from being absorbed. We may be getting plenty of vitamins in our diet, but that means very little if we can’t absorb them. Let’s take a look at common symptoms of alcohol malabsorption:

  • Fatigue. Deficiencies in vitamins such as B12 and folate can lead to fatigue and weakness.
  • Digestive issues. Vitamin malabsorption and alcohol can both cause both gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, abdominal pain, and indigestion.
  • Neurological symptoms. Deficiencies in B vitamins, particularly thiamine (B1), can lead to neurological symptoms such as numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, muscle weakness, poor coordination, and memory problems.
  • Anemia. Although most often associated with a deficiency of iron (a mineral), vitamin B12 contributes to anemia by inhibiting the function of healthy red blood cells. Anemia is characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
  • Mood changes. Deficiencies in B vitamins can affect mood and lead to symptoms such as irritability, depression, and anxiety.
  • Skin problems. Malabsorption of vitamin A affects skin health and leads to symptoms such as dry skin, rashes, or cracking at the corners of the mouth. The dehydration caused by alcohol also reduces the plumpness and elasticity of skin.
  • Weight loss. In severe cases of malabsorption, individuals may experience weight loss because they are unable to obtain the nutrients needed. (Note: This is not the good kind of weight loss!)

Symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the alcohol consumption. However, even moderate alcohol use can lead to moderate malabsorption. 

After reading this list we may be wondering, does taking vitamins after drinking alcohol help counteract the negative effects of alcohol? The results are mixed. Some research found that supplements can help reduce liver damage while others show no difference. More studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of vitamin supplements, but there is one simple answer: quitting or cutting back on alcohol is the most effective way to prevent alcohol-related vitamin malabsorption.

Recovering With Vitamins

There is good news! The simple act of reducing (or completely stopping) alcohol use allows the body to heal and restore its functions — including nutrient absorption.

You can use vitamins to your advantage as you try to heal from chronic alcohol use. For instance, B vitamins such as B1, B9, and B12 help you regain proper energy metabolism and nerve function, and boost your overall well-being. Vitamin C helps support your immune system and reduces oxidative stress levels caused by alcohol use. To get these vitamins, you can use supplements, but you can also maximize vitamin bioavailability by getting them from certain foods: 

  • Fruits such as bananas, apples (with the skin!), and oranges
  • Whole grain breads
  • Liver (including pâté)
  • Sweet and hot peppers 
  • Roots and tubers, such as carrots, beets, potatoes, and sweet potatoes
  • Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and chard
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts
  • Small amounts of dairy, including Greek yogurt and milk

It's important to note that while supplements can help support recovery, they should not be used as a substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats is essential for overall health and recovery from alcohol use. Additionally, individuals recovering from alcohol use should consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplements to ensure they are safe and appropriate for their individual needs.

Key Takeaways

Alcohol takes a toll on our overall health, and its effects on our vitamin absorption are only the beginning. Quitting or cutting back on alcohol is an effective way to prioritize our well-being. Luckily, there are endless resources out there to help with this project. Consider trying the Reframe app, which puts a science-backed toolkit right in your pocket. Here’s to your health!

Summary FAQs

1. What vitamins does alcohol deplete?

Alcohol depletes fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. Alcohol is particularly hard on B complex vitamins such as folate, B6, and thiamin. 

2. Can we take vitamins with alcohol?

We can, but they might not be helpful since alcohol can deplete and prevent the absorption of vitamins. 

3. What vitamins should we not take with alcohol?

High doses of vitamins A, D, E, and K can potentially exacerbate the liver damage caused by alcohol. 

4. How long after taking vitamins can we drink alcohol?

Alcohol typically takes quite a while to leave our system — about an hour for every drink — but the toxic byproducts of alcohol stick around for much longer (up to 24 hours). While there’s no particular danger from taking vitamins as prescribed before or after drinking, they are generally less effective within the 24 hours after drinking. If we chronically use alcohol in large amounts, they will be less effective until after the alcohol withdrawal period is over.

5. What vitamins should I take if I drink alcohol?

Consider taking vitamins C, A, and B-complex after drinking alcohol; they help our body recover. 

Drink Less and Thrive With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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