Nutritional Supplements for Alcoholism

Alcohol not only prevents some nutrients from being absorbed, but it actually uses up many important vitamins and minerals. In addition, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that alcoholics “often eat poorly, limiting their supply of essential nutrients and affecting both energy supply and structure maintenance.” Dr. Enoch Gordis, director of the NIAAA, says that supplementing with vitamins and minerals may be helpful in returning the alcoholic to overall health but that using nutrition as a means of therapy has not yet been defined.

Vitamins

Vitamins are essential for many of the body’s functions. Vitamins are usually obtained through a healthful diet and, in the case of vitamin D, exposure to sunshine. Most alcoholics are deficient in vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K.

Because alcohol inhibits fat absorption, alcoholics may need supplementation of vitamins that are normally absorbed with dietary fats, like vitamins A, E and D.

The Linus Pauling Institute says that liver disease, which often occurs in alcoholics, inhibits the absorption of vitamin K, essential for blood clotting and bone formation.

A study conducted at Yale University published in the “Journal of Nutrition” found that the level of vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin, in the blood of non-alcoholics was considerably higher than that of alcoholic patients. The study found that daily supplementation of 500 mg of vitamin C for a week was necessary before being able to place the alcoholic patients on a maintenance program.

B vitamins are necessary for proper cognitive function as well as the proper maintenance of other vital systems. An article in the “Oxford Journals” states that B vitamin deficiency may play a part in a number of neuropsychiatric syndromes, such as alcoholic psychosis and nervous system degeneration. The authors state that there is a “high prevalence of B vitamin deficiency in alcohol-dependent patients.”

Minerals

The NIAAA states that “mineral deficiencies can cause a variety of medical consequences from calcium-related bone disease to zinc-related night blindness and skin lesions.” The NIAAA says that most mineral deficiencies in alcoholics not related to the inability to absorb the nutrients but are rather secondary to other alcohol-related conditions, such as malnutrition, increased excretion rates or gastrointestinal bleeding.

The NIAAA says that many alcoholics are deficient in calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.

Protein

Protein is necessary for the proper maintenance of the cells of the body. The NIAAA says that “alcohol affects protein nutrition by causing impaired digestion,” which prevents protein from being available for use by cells.

A study performed at the Alcohol Research and Treatment Center at the Veterans Administration Hospital in The Bronx, New York, found that protein-deficient diets contributed to the development of pancreatitis in rats. The researchers noted that the findings “may explain the link between nutrition and the occurrence of alcoholic pancreatitis.”

Furthermore, a study at the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, published in the “Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition” showed that patients with alcoholic hepatitis improved when given diets supplemented with additional calories and protein.

About this Author

Juliet Harpe studied nursing at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif., and theater arts at DeAnza College in Cupertino, Calif. She researches alternative health therapies and has been manufacturing natural perfumes and aromatherapy products since 2005. Harpe has been writing for websites such as LIVESTRONG, eHow and AnswerBag since 2009.