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Alcohol and Malnutrition

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Alcohol consumption has been linked to malnutrition, which is a severe health concern. Malnutrition refers to the lack of essential nutrients required for optimal growth, development and maintenance of health. It can lead to various health problems such as impaired immune function, anaemia and muscle waste and contribute in development of chronic diseases like heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer. This article explores the connection between alcohol and malnutrition.


The relationship between alcohol and malnutrition


There is a strong link between alcohol consumption and malnutrition. Alcohol interferes with absorption and metabolism of essential nutrients. Particularly, alcohol reduces the body’s ability to absorb nutrients such as vitamins A, B1, B6, B12, C, D, E and K, as well as minerals like magnesium, calcium, potassium and zinc.


Alcohol interferes with nutrients absorption by damaging the lining of gastrointestinal tract which is responsible for absorbing nutrients from food and delivering them to the body. When the lining is damaged, it is less efficient at absorbing nutrients. This can lead to malabsorption, which can result in malnutrition.


According to study conducted by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, chronic alcohol abuse can cause malnutrition due to a decrease in the appetite stimulating hormone ghrelin and an increase in the appetite suppressing hormone leptin.


The effects of alcohol-related malnutrition


The effects of alcohol-related malnutrition can be severe. In the short term, malnutrition can lead to weakness, fatigue and increased risk of infections. Over the long term, malnutrition can lead to chronic health problems like osteoporosis, neurological disorders, anaemia, death.

Malnutrition caused by increased alcohol consumption can exacerbate existing health concerns. For example, people with liver disease may experience worsening of their condition due to the increased nutrients requirement and the liver damage caused by alcohol.

Often heavy drinking accompanied by a high fat/sugar diet and lack of physical activity may cause obesity. This relationship between alcohol consumption and obesity has been shown to be prominent particularly in women.


How to prevent alcohol-related malnutrition


Many alcoholics are malnourished either because of inadequate consumption of essential nutrients or because alcohol metabolism prevents the body from properly using those nutrients.

Preventing malnutrition caused by alcohol consumption requires reducing alcohol consumption and ensuring an adequate intake of nutrients. Getting adequate nutrition can be achieved by eating a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins, healthy fats and antioxidants.



Alcohol and malnutrition. Iremia Counselling




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