Alcoholism is a deadly disease. The damaging effects of excessive drinking on the body are multifold, including in organs such as the brain, heart, liver and pancreas, the weakening of the immune system and possibly increasing the risk of cancer. Included in the physical toll on the body, alcohol abuse also causes a depletion of certain vitamins, minerals, proteins and fatty acids, causing serious symptoms affecting cognitive and physical and mental health.
Vitamins B-1 (thiamin), B-3 (niacin) and B-6 (pyridoxine) are directly or indirectly related to the metabolizing of alcohol in the body. They are also among the first nutrients to be depleted by excessive alcohol consumption. Symptoms of a vitamin B complex deficiency are cracks on the side of the mouth, confusion, rash, depression and susceptibility to infections.
In addition, vitamin B-12 (riboflavin) functions and is affected by excessive drinking. Alcohol can cause glutathione depletion, which reduces the liver’s ability to metabolize the alcohol, and B-12 function relies on glutathione. Symptoms of a vitamin B-12 deficiency are weakness, tiredness, or light-headedness, rapid heartbeat, pale skin, easy bruising or bleeding, stomach upset and weight loss, diarrhea or constipation.
When vitamin B levels are compromised, cognitive functions follow. Vitamin B has been shown to slow brain atrophy by lowering the amino acid, homocysteine, concentrations. Adequate vitamin B function is necessary for cognitive health, including general cognitive function and memory.
Other symptoms of compromised vitamin B levels due to alcoholism are:
Vitamin B-1 deficiency: depression, irritability, neurological and cardiac disorders
Vitamin B-2 deficiency: depression
Vitamin B-3 deficiency: anxiety, depression and fatigue
Vitamin B-6 deficiency: formation of neurotransmitters disrupted
Vitamin B-12 deficiency: depression
Folic acid deficiency: depression
Pantothenic acid deficiency: fatigue, chronic stress and depression
A deficiency in the essential nutrient thiamine (vitamin B-1) resulting from chronic alcohol consumption is one factor underlying alcohol–induced brain damage. Thiamine is a helper molecule (i.e., a cofactor) required by three enzymes involved in two pathways of carbohydrate metabolism. Because intermediate products of these pathways are needed for the generation of other essential molecules in the cells (e.g., building blocks of proteins and DNA as well as brain chemicals), a reduction in thiamine can interfere with numerous cellular functions, leading to serious brain disorders.
When someone abuses alcohol and their body begins to become depleted in B vitamins, the liver decreases its supply of these nutrients and the blood stream is called upon to replenish the supply. Once the body cells are deprived of essential nutrients, normal body functions will begin to suffer.
An alcoholic who then attempts to stop drinking may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms which are caused by these vitamin deficiencies. Common withdrawal symptoms are:
Impaired cognitive function
Cognitive function, in a person who is seriously depleted in these vitamins, can be improved by supplementing the diet with a vitamin B complex in the form of a shot or pills in addition to a healthy diet. Vitamin B-12 can be found primarily in meat and dairy products; vitamin B-6 can be found in fish, poultry, liver, potatoes and non-citrus fruit; vitamins B-1 can be found in breakfast cereals and whole grains; B-2 also can be found in whole grains, as well as in milk, eggs and dark green vegetables. By restoring the levels of these crucial nutrients, a person recovering from alcohol abuse will benefit as the body repairs itself, leading to better absorption levels and cognitive and liver functions.
Written by Eileen Spatz, Sovereign Health Group writer