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Alcohol and Medications

How Does Alcohol Deplete Our B Vitamins?

August 6, 2023
9 min read
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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.
August 6, 2023
9 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.
August 6, 2023
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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.
August 6, 2023
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Reframe Content Team
August 6, 2023
9 min read

It’s been a particularly tough week. To blow off steam, you kick back in your cozy recliner on Friday evening and crack open a cold beer. This moment of relaxation feels earned, and it's a ritual that many of us have come to anticipate.

Unfortunately, a seemingly harmless drink can create nutritional ramifications, specifically depleting our B vitamins — essential nutrients that carry out several functions in our bodies. So what is the link between vitamin B and alcohol, and what causes vitamin B deficiency in alcoholics? And, more specifically, what is the connection between alcohol and vitamin B12 deficiency? Let’s explore the relationship between vitamin B and alcohol in more detail. 

The Role of B Vitamins in Our Body

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B vitamins, a family of eight unique yet interrelated nutrients, are the unsung heroes of our body's daily operations. Each member of this group has a specialized role, yet they all work in synergy to keep our bodies functioning at their best. They power our cells, protect our brain, and ensure that every part of our body has the energy it needs to thrive.

B1 (thiamine), for example, is crucial for glucose metabolism — converting our food into energy — and it plays a key role in nerve, muscle, and heart function. B2 (riboflavin) aids in the breakdown of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, while also acting as an antioxidant and protecting our body from damage by free radicals. B3 (niacin) assists in the function of the digestive system, skin, and nerves, and is also important for the conversion of food to energy.

B5 (pantothenic acid) plays a significant role in the synthesis of coenzyme A, a molecule involved in various metabolic pathways, including the synthesis and oxidation of fatty acids. B6 (pyridoxine) is involved in the creation of neurotransmitters, chemicals that transmit signals from one nerve cell to another. B7 (biotin) helps convert food into energy and also plays a role in the health of our hair, skin, and nails.

B9 (folate) is famous for its role in aiding in neural tube formation during pregnancy, but it's also vital for proper brain function and mental and emotional health in all stages of life. B12 (cobalamin), the most complex of all vitamins, is vital for neurological function, DNA production, and red blood cell development.

A deficiency in any of these B vitamins can trigger a cascade of adverse health effects, ranging from fatigue, skin disorders, and digestive issues to more severe consequences like neurological disorders and anemia. Moreover, B vitamins are water-soluble, which means they can't be stored in our bodies and must be regularly replenished through diet or supplementation.

When we consider alcohol's impact on these nutrients, the picture becomes even more concerning. Alcohol can interfere with the absorption, storage, metabolism, and activation of these vitamins, causing an imbalance that can potentially affect numerous body systems. This is just one of the many ways that alcohol can disrupt our bodies' finely tuned biochemical balance.

A Detrimental Duo: Vitamin B and Alcohol

What is the link between vitamin B and alcohol, and does alcohol cause B12 deficiency? Alcohol impedes our absorption of nutrients, and vitamin B deficiency in alcoholics is a well-documented problem. The cells that line our stomach and intestines are the key players in nutrient absorption, and they help us derive the benefits of the foods we eat. However, these cells can be damaged by consistent alcohol consumption, leading to a decreased ability to absorb B vitamins effectively. Even if we’re eating plenty of foods rich in B vitamins or supplementing, alcohol severely restricts our ability to absorb them.

Alcohol-related deficiencies in vitamin B12 are especially troubling. Like other B vitamins, vitamin B12 isn’t absorbed as efficiently in the stomach with alcohol in the picture. Moreover, the liver plays a key role in storing this vital nutrient, and alcohol-related liver damage can interfere with this process. 

B vitamins and alcohol a potential health boost or risk

Additionally, our bodies metabolize alcohol using a set of enzymes known as alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase. These enzymes, which rely on the availability of B vitamins like niacin and riboflavin, help convert alcohol into a substance that is less toxic and can be easily excreted from our bodies. Regular alcohol consumption can tap into our existing reserves of these vitamins, causing a reduction in their levels.

Finally, consistent alcohol consumption can also negatively affect our dietary choices. Often, those of us who frequently consume alcohol are less likely to maintain a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, a fact that can further exacerbate a B vitamin deficiency.

Consequences of B Vitamin Deficiency

B vitamin depletion can have significant consequences. Initial signs of deficiency might include general fatigue, skin conditions, memory issues, and mood changes. However, in severe cases, a lack of these vital nutrients can lead to diseases such as beriberi and pellagra, or a condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which can cause severe neurological problems.

Preserving B Vitamin Levels

It's crucial to understand the potential risks associated with regular alcohol consumption, regardless of whether you’re cutting back or quitting altogether. By adopting certain measures, we can work to mitigate the impact of alcohol on our B vitamins:

  • Embrace moderation: Limit the consumption of alcohol and adhere to the CDC’s recommended guidelines (no more than 1 drink a day for women and no more than 2 drinks a day for men).
  • Adopt a balanced diet: Prioritize a nutrient-rich diet that includes plentiful sources of B vitamins, such as whole grains, lean proteins, and leafy green vegetables.
  • Consider supplementation: Contemplate the use of a B-complex vitamin supplement, especially for those who consume alcohol frequently. As always, it is advisable to consult a healthcare provider before embarking on any new supplement regimen.
  • Don’t skip your medical appointments: Regular medical check-ups can help identify any potential deficiencies at an early stage, facilitating appropriate interventions.

A good life involves striking a balance between enjoyment and health. While it's entirely natural to enjoy a drink now and then, staying informed about the potential health implications is an essential part of maintaining our well-being. By understanding the relationship between alcohol and B vitamins, we can make informed decisions that will help us not just to live, but to truly thrive. 

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