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June Russell's Health Facts

Alcohol - Vitamins and Nutrients

[General]   [Vitamin A]   [B Vitamins]   [Magnesium]   [Potassium]   [Selenium]   [GABA]   [Aging]  
[Osteoporosis]   [Oxidative Stress]   [Anti-Social Behavior]  

Effect of Alcohol on Nutrient Absorption Generally

Alcohol interferes with the metabolism of most vitamins, and with the absorption of many nutrients. Alcohol stimulates both urinary calcium and magnesium excretion.
{Dept. of Health and Human Services, Report to Congress, 1990}

It is best to hold off on that alcoholic drink for four hours after taking your vitamins. Alcohol may hasten a supplement's breakdown in the stomach, perhaps interfering with absorption.
{"Health check," by Nancy Snyderman, MD, Good Housekeeping, Jan. 1998}

Alcohol reduces the absorption of food through the lining of the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of amino acids, glucose, zinc and vitamins.
{“Alcohol and tobacco, america’s drugs of choice.” Information Plus, 1999}

Alcohol hampers the efficient metabolizing of fatty acids.
{"Get Health Now," by Gary Null, one of America's leading health and fitness advocates, 1999}

The presence of alcohol in some beverages may lessen their health-giving properties.
{American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2000}

Despite an adequate diet, alcohol can contribute to the entire spectrum of liver diseases. Alcohol interferes with nutrient activation, resulting in changes in nutritional requirements.
{'Alcohol and Nutrient Interaction," Nutrition Hints by Betty Kamen. Source: the Annual Review of Nutrition 2000}

If alcohol is your soother, stress will hike your nutritional needs and alcohol will reduce nutrient availability.
{"6 steps for handling stress," Lauri Aesoph, ND, Health World Online, June 2001}

According to USDA surveys, fewer than two percent of Americans are following a diet with the recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
{Eating Right columnist Lawrence Linder, executive editor of the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, Washington Post Health, October 24, 2000}  Editor's comment: The use of alcohol negates availability of vitamins and nutrients, so if you are already taking in fewer nutrients than you should, as 98% of the population are doing, then it is even more of a risk for resulting health problems.

Food in the stomach will compete with ethanol for absorption into the blood stream. It is well known that alcohol competes and influences the processing of nutrients in the body.
{"Alcohol, chemistry and you," Kennesaw State University,, Aug. 2002}

Editor's comment: When buying vitamins, supplements, herbs, etc., buy a reliable product. Most of the negative stories and warnings are from sub-standard products, or rare stories picked up by a pharmaceutical companies supporting media where the herbs were not taken as directed. To give you a better perspective: experts calculate that about ten million people in the U.S. each year suffer adverse effects from prescription drugs. Sidney Wolfe, MD, a well-known consumer advocate says that one-third of conventional drugs shouldn't be used at all. Adverse drug reactions account for up to 140,000 deaths annually in the U.S. {JAMA 1997} and 25% of all surgery in the U.S. is unnecessary.
{Dr. Arnold Relman, Editor Emeritus of the Prestigious New England Journal of Medicine}

Alcohol inhibits the breakdown of nutrients into usable molecules by decreasing secretion of digestive enzymes from the pancreas, and impairs nutrient absorption by damaging the cells lining the stomach and intestines. In addition, nutritional deficiencies themselves may lead to further absorption problems.
{Alcohol & Research World 1989}.

Alcohol inhibits fat absorption and thereby impairs absorption of the vitamins A, E, and D that are normally absorbed along with dietary fats. {ibid}

Nutrients normally found in the liver, such as carotenoids, which are major sources of vitamin A, and vitamin E compounds, are negatively affected by alcohol use.
{Hepatology, 1992 and 1993}
{Alcohol and Nutrition, Alcohol Alert from NIAAA,, Apr. 2003}

Proper nutrition cannot protect against the direct toxic effect of alcohol to its breakdown products.
{Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2003}

5-HTP is a substance that is converted into both serotonin and melatonin, and is an excellent antidepressant and sleep aid. Warning: do not take with alcohol.
{, 2003}

Effect on Vitamin A Requirement

More vitamin A is needed by those who drink alcohol because faulty liver enzymes are dissipated more quickly. Rats tested could not deal with vitamins because of the toxic by-products when combined with alcohol.
{New York Times, Oct. 20, 1985}

Although five times the daily vitamin A requirement has no detectable adverse effects when given alone, when combined with alcohol there is a leakage of a cellular enzyme into the blood stream. Vitamin A supplementation then might hasten rather than alleviate the development of liver disease.
{Lieber CS. Biochemical and molecular basis of alcohol-induced injury to liver and other tissues. New England Journal of Medicine, 1988}

Recent research has found that the presence of alcohol increases the amount of vitamin A in some tissues, depletes it in others (such as the liver) and speeds up or alters the process by which the vitamin is converted into metabolic by-products. Alcohol can promote extra insulin release from the pancreas in response to glucose, causing hypoglycemia and at the same time, alcohol depletes the liver’s glycogen stores and impairs its capacity for formation of new glucose.
{The Nutritional Effects of Alcohol, Mount Sinai School of Medicine Complete Book of Nutrition}

Alcohol interferes with zinc and vitamin A metabolism in the liver and can negatively affect night blindness.
{"Eye signs can reveal your nutritional health,", June 2001}

Continued alcohol use can create changes in the digestive system which make nutrient absorption difficult. Alcohol may interfere with the body's ability to use vitamins. Breakdown of vitamin A also accelerates and may lead to vitamin A depletion in the liver. Sometimes acetaldehyde, a byproduct of alcohol oxidation, will bind with an amino acid, leading to reduced glutathione, an important substance in the liver. Glutathione helps scavenge toxic free-radicals.
{"Alcohol's effect on the liver," Charles Leiber, MD, Director of Alcohol Research and Treatment Center, Professor of Medicine and Pathology, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine of the City University of New York,, Sep. 2002}

Alexander Opotowsky, MD, suggests in the Food and Fitness Advisor newsletter (November 2003) that it may be better to get vitamin A from beta-carotene because it carries less risk of toxicity. So far, no one has been able to establish exactly what the minimum intake of vitamin A should be. Also, people metabolize vitamin A differently, “anything that affects the liver, such as alcohol use, can easily affect your vitamin A metabolism, but even without such external influences there are significant differences in how individuals metabolize vitamin A.”

Carotene is metabolized in the body to vitamin A at a slow rate, and excessive ingestion of carotene does not cause vitamin A toxicity, although it may result in the skin becomes a deep yellow, especially on the palms and feet.
{The Merck Manual, 2003}

Stomachaches and overeating go hand-in-hand. Eating too much can exhaust your enzyme system, resulting in undigested food which causes stomach pain. Other common reasons for stomach discomfort: eating foods your body is allergic to, consuming alcohol with meals, and eating desserts (combining simple sugars in alcohol or desserts with the protein in a meal can cause stomachaches), eating when your body chemistry is upset such as when in distress or ill.
{“Healthy Bones, What You Should Know About Osteoporosis,” a 1991 book by Nancy Appleton, PhD, a clinical nutritionist who has appeared on numerous television and radio shows}

Beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, was considered innocuous until recently, when it was found to also interact with ethanol, which interferes with its conversion to retinol. Furthermore, the combination of beta-carotene with ethanol results in hepatotoxicity. Ethanol, while promoting a deficiency of vitamin A, also enhances its toxicity as well as that of beta-carotene. This should be taken into account when formulating treatments aimed at correcting vitamin A deficiency, especially in drinking populations.
{“Alcohol, vitamin A, and beta-carotene: adverse interactions, including hepatotoxity and carcinogenicity,” Am J Clin Nutr June 1999, on, 2003}

Smoking and drinking (alcohol) appear to reverse the anti-cancer effects of beta-carotene. Among those who did not smoke or drink, beta-carotene supplementation was linked to a 44% reduction in polyp recurrence.
{Journal of the National Cancer Institute May 2003}
{“Smoking and drinking may reverse supplement anti-cancer effect,”, May 2003}

Effect on B Vitamins

Alcohol destroys B vitamins. This is a list of minerals and vitamins that you will need to supplement if you drink alcohol: calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper, vitamin C, thiamine and riboflavin.
{“The Complete Guide to Your Emotions and Your Health,” Editors of Prevention magazine. 1986}

You can guard against folic acid deficiency by making sure that your diet is balanced. Avoiding alcohol will lower your risk for this deficiency.
{American Medical Association, 1994}

Alcohol is known to promote folic acid deficiency, and has also been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer.
{ - HealthNotes on line. Klatsky A. L., et al., "The relations of alcoholic beverage use to colon and rectal cancer," American Journal of Epidemiology, 1998}

Even in small amounts, alcohol will destroy vitamins B12, B6, and folic acid, which causes an increase in susceptibility to homocysteine, a greater predictor of heart disease than cholesterol.
{"The Ultimate Anti-aging Program," Gary Null, 1999}

Alcohol can lower levels of both folic acid, a B vitamin that may prevent polyp formation, and methionine, an amino acid that appears to block carcinogenesis. The more you drink the higher the risk of colon cancer.
{Self Healing newsletter, Dr. Andrew Weil, Jan. 2000}

Folic acid, a B vitamin, is important. The brains of the nuns in the study who had high levels of folic acid in their blood deteriorated more slowly. Alzheimer's is a brain-wasting disease, and the last thing you want to do is to nutritionally deprive the brain tissue. The body is rusting and you have unstable oxygen that tears down the tissues and joints, causing oxidation. Depression may make the symptoms appear earlier.
{The nun's study," June 23, 2001, People's Pharmacy, Public Radio. Guest: Dr. David Snowden, author of "Aging with Grace."}  Editor's comment: alcohol is a negative for all the symptoms mentioned. Check other alcohol sub-topics on this Web site:

Folic Acid deficiency is associated with depression in older women.
{American Journal of Clinical Nutrition - 2004}   Editor's comment: Alcohol negates vitamins and nutrients, including folic acid.

Thiamin assimilation is blocked by alcohol consumption. Alcohol use also injures the small intestine and reduces its ability to absorb thiamin. Alcohol decreases thiamin conversion to thiamin pyrophosphate and depletes tissues of this coenzyme.
{“Vitamin B-1 - General Discussion,, Apr. 2004}

Ten to thirty percent of older people may be unable to absorb natural B12 from food.
{“Women’s Health Advisor,” Weill Medical College of Cornell University, June 2001}  Author’s Comment Alcohol use contributes to this depletion.

A new study in the journal Epidemiology reported that women whose diets were lowest in folate faced no greater cancer risk than women with higher-folate diets - if they were nondrinkers. But if they drank more than two alcoholic drinks a week, their breast cancer risk increased almost 60 percent. JAMA earlier reported similar findings from the Nurse's Health Study (cited as a 40% risk). It is too early to know, however, if simply getting sufficient folate is enough to prevent alcohol's damaging effects.
{"Alcohol worse for some women," Karen Collins, RD,, Dec. 2001}

Avoiding alcohol can minimize already depleted nutrients. Ten to 30% of older people may be unable to absorb natural B12 from food.
{The Center for Women's Healthcare newsletter, June 2001}

A fifty percent increased risk of early miscarriage is linked to the lack of folic acid, says a Swedish-American study.
{ - October 2002}

Every drink you take causes thiamine loss, impaired B6 activation, folate loss, and increased magnesium excretion.
{from the book “Hormone Replacement Therapy: Yes or No,” by Betty Kamen, 2002}

B-12 deficiency is common among people older than 50, probably because up to 30% of those in this age bracket are unable to absorb this vitamin from food. Symptoms sometimes attributed to ‘old age’ could be caused by dietary insufficiency, and a B-12 deficiency can lead to neurological damage. The recommended daily allowance of B-12 is 2.4 micrograms.
{“Running low on B-12?” HealthNews, July 2003}   Editor's comment: Alcohol promotes deficiencies in vitamins and nutrients.

Effect on Magnesium Availability

The use of alcohol lowers magnesium at a faster rate. Magnesium is important in over 300 enzymes in the body, and a deficiency can result in a host of problems. Blood test results can show it to be normal when levels are low. Calcium is used to make a muscle contract, while magnesium makes it relax.
{from the book: "Tired or Toxic," by Sherry A. Rogers, an expert on chemical sensitivities, and how low levels of vitamins/nutrients can cause serious health problems, 1990}

Even a small amount of alcohol can drain magnesium reserves.
{from the book, "Preventing Arthritis," by Donald Lawrence, MD, PhD, specialist in the study of pain, 2000}

You may be at increased risk for magnesium deficiency if you regularly consume alcohol or take diuretics, because both can increase urinary excretion of the mineral.
{Health Sciences Institute,, Oct. 2003}

In January 2004, a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine showed that there is a clear association between low serum magnesium levels and an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes. Also in May of the same year, Diabetes Care ( reported another study that magnesium may reduce the risk of diabetes. The combined data showed a significant association between elevated levels of magnesium and a reduced risk of diabetes.
{Health Sciences Institute, May 2004}   Editor's comment: Avoiding alcohol can reduce the risk of diabetes.

Alcohol is now known to be the most notorious cause of magnesium wasting, and the deficiency of magnesium is common, especially in the elderly.
{Alcohol Clin Exp Res (USA), 1994}

Magnesium depletion within the heart muscle also leads to depletion of potassium. Alcohol not only reduces the body’s ability to absorb magnesium but also increases the secretion of magnesium. These two primary electrolytes   magnesium and potassium   are needed for proper nerve function and muscle firing. Magnesium helps lower high blood pressure, and improves heart valve insufficiencies and cardiomyopathy.
{Murray, 1998; Somer,1995}

Magnesium is crucial for the functioning of the entire cardiovascular system.
{body, May 2004}

Magnesium deficiency has been associated with cardiomyopathy due to alcohol use.
{The Bartter Site, American Heart Journal, Sep. 1996}

Alcohol causes a very quick loss of magnesium, and low magnesium causes arrhythmia in the heart.
{“Magnesium,”, May 2004}

An excess of stress hormones can reduce magnesium levels in the heart, constricting vessels and increasing blood pressure, coagulation and stickiness of blood platelets - all of which raise the risk of heart attack.
{Natural Health magazine, October 2004}   Editor's comment: The use of alcohol increases stress on the body. See ‘Alcohol - Stress.”

Effect on Potassium Availability

Alcohol affects all brain functions and there are GABA receptors in many parts of the brain. When ethanol links to the GABA receptor it further inhibits GABA’s effect on brain leading to sedation. In the journal Nature, a 2004 study demonstrated that alcohol opens a specific type of ionic channel, called GIRK. When open, this channel allows the brain cells to eliminate potassium, thus reducing their activity. The result is a slow-down in brain function, perceived as a relaxing sensation by the drinker.
{“Action of alcohol in the brain,” why does alcohol relax?, Brain & Mind, Brain Diseases,}

Potassium excretion increases after alcohol ingestion, and alcohol is associated with potassium deficiency.
{“Everything you always wanted to know about potassium but were too tired to ask,” Betty Kamen, PhD, on ‘Nutrition Hints’ Hint # 1170, May 2003}

Effect on Selenium Availability

Chronic (regular) alcohol use depletes selenium stores in the body. Selenium is involved in a healthy immune system and proper thyroid function, and recent research shows that it can reduce the severity of some cancers.
{Iowa State University, “Food and Nutrition,” Aug. 2004}


A Yale study showed that low GABA levels are linked to panic disorders. GABA is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter, a brain chemical.
{ - July 2001}  Editor's comment: Alcohol lowers GABA which makes it more likely that those who drink will have panic disorders.

Lowered inhibitions accompany low-dose use of alcohol. The neurotransmitter GABA, which serves as an inhibitor, is most affected by alcohol. For some drinkers, lowered inhibition results in being heavily involved in aggression, violence and sexual assault. When GABA receptors are activated by alcohol, they change over time to become less sensitive not only to ethanol but to GABA, benzodiazepines, and other GABA agonists as well.
{Valenzuela & Harris, 1997}; {, Oct. 2001}

Aging and Alcohol

The older population is already malabsorptive so the risk is even greater when using alcohol. As you get older, a common problem is low stomach acid and diminished secretion of digestive enzymes. Lack of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes can lead to malabsorption of nutrients, plus the growth of putrefactive bacteria and gas-producing yeasts in the intestinal tract.
{Richard P. Huemer, MD, “Poor digestion in elderly,” Let’s Live magazine, Nov. 1999. In ‘Your Health Column.’}


For 28 million Americans (80% women), osteoporosis is a major public health threat. Ten million already have the disease and 18 million more have low bone mass. Limit alcohol because it is a risk factor.
{National Osteoporosis Foundation, 2000}

As long as you eat a natural diet that includes vegetables, beans, grains, and small amounts of protein, you will get all the calcium you need. Add caffeine, alcohol, antacids, drugs, sugar, or refined food and it won’t matter how natural the rest of the diet is. When the body’s pH balance becomes acidic, calcium is pulled from the bones to buffer this acidic state, thereby weakening the bones. A study at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine at La Jolla reports that as little as two drinks in a day could cut the benefits of calcium in one’s diet.

Oxidative Stress

Alcohol hastens the breakdown of the antioxidants in the blood, speeding its elimination from the body.
{, July 2000}

In patients who had oxidant stress from alcoholic-induced liver disease, antioxidant therapy (2,500 mg a day of vitamin C for 10 days) accounted for over a 50% decrease in stress. This would be a wise supplement for anyone drinking significant amounts of alcohol, but even wiser to avoid the alcohol.
{ May 10, 2001}

The by-products of alcohol metabolism generate oxidants that can contribute to cell damage. An imbalance between oxidants and antioxidants (substances that neutralize oxidation) can create oxidative stress, a state marked by continued production of oxidizing agents and escalation of cell damage.
{Alcohol Research & Health, Vol. 25, No. 4, 2001}

Alcohol, Nutrients and Anti-Social Behavior

There has been evidence dating as far back as 1942 linking nutritional deficits to antisocial behavior. A study in the British Journal of Psychology (2002) states that young adults who consume adequate amounts of essential nutrients are less likely to engage in antisocial behavior, including violence.
{"Nutrients and antisocial behavior," Betty Kamen, PhD, and Michael Rosenbaum, MD, "Nutrition Hints," August 2002} Editor's comment: The use of alcohol negates needed nutrients.

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