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Alcohol and its effect on nutrients

By Simone Austin

Many people enjoy a drink or two with friends. Most of us are familiar with the immediate effects alcohol has on the brain and central nervous system. However, we may not be as familiar with the impact that consuming alcohol on a regular basis has on the nutrient intake we require.

Folate

Essential for cell production and maintenance. Alcohol interferes with folate’s absorption, its transport to tissues and its storage and release by the liver.

Vitamin B12

Needed to maintain healthy nerve and red blood cells. Even moderate drinking levels can decreases serum vitamin B12 levels.

Thiamin (B1)

Particularly important for energy production reactions and nerve function. It is important for nearly every cellular reaction in the body, and it is needed for alcohol metabolism.

Vitamin A

Alcohol consumption can promote a deficiency in Vitamin A, which is needed for vision, to regulate the immune system, bone growth, reproduction and cell health.

Calcium

Important for blood vessel and muscle contraction and expansion, hormone and enzyme secretion and bone health and nerve conduction. Alcohol can cause calcium losses through urinary excretion.

Weight Control

The consumption of alcohol is often accompanied by poor dietary choices that lead to reduced nutrient intake. These foods are often said to contain empty calories/kilojoules. Alcohol is also said to contain empty calories/kilojoules as it is empty of beneficial nutrients.

Alcohol does, however, provide many calories/kilojoules that contribute to weight gain, as it is a source of excess energy.

Studies have shown that, in the short term, alcohol stimulates hunger, which is typically followed by food intake. This can contribute to unwanted weight gain.

Sensible Drinking

The National Health and Medical Research Council Department of Health and Ageing’s updated guidelines for alcohol consumption recommends: Up to two standard drinks per day for low-risk drinking. *

Everyone should have at least two alcohol free days a week.

Liver

A small amount of alcohol is lost through sweat, breath and urine, but most is left to our liver to break down. The liver’s enzymes oxidise alcohol at the rate of about one standard drink per hour. Nothing can speed this process up. Alcohol is toxic and therefore cannot be stored by the body, so breaking it down becomes a priority for the liver, interrupting normal processes.

Excessive drinking can cause permanent damage to the liver and other organs.

Health benefits of alcohol?

Any health benefits to alcohol consumption are generally related to cardiovascular disease and only at levels of one drink or less per day for women and two or less for men.

Any level of alcohol consumption may be associated with increased risk of some diseases. It is safer to obtain beneficial nutrients such as antioxidants from your diet or appropriate supplements than from alcohol.

* Thanks to commenter Cate for pointing out that the Department of Health and Ageing’s updated guidelines for alcohol consumption recommends that men should also limit alcohol consumption to two standard drinks – not four – on any one day.

Akilah M. El, N.D. is a Naturopathic Doctor and certified Master Herbalist with a private practice in Atlanta Georgia and Berlin Germany. Join Dr Akilah El on Facebook and Twitter

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