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Alcohol leaches vitamin C from the body

Alcohol leaches vitamin C from the bodyAlcohol has a greater negative impact on public health than most other things. It is commonly known that alcohol abuse burdens the liver and depletes the body of B vitamins. Now, scientists have also demonstrated that overconsumption of alcohol leaches vitamin C from the body, and they call for further studies to show that vitamin C supplements may help improve the health of alcoholics. It is also possible that vitamin C supplementation can limit the damage of short-term excessive drinking. Their new review article is published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. Because the body is unable to store it, we need to consume the nutrient regularly. Vitamin C is important for connective tissue, the immune defense, numerous enzyme functions, and hormone synthesis. Vitamin C is also important for the brain and cognitive functions such as language and memory. It even has antioxidant properties and protects against oxidative stress caused by harmful free radicals, which are aggressive molecules that attack our cells and tissues. Alcohol is known to increase oxidative stress.
Lack of vitamin C may cause fatigue, poor concentration, frequent infections, iron deficiency and cardiovascular disease. If our connective tissues loses its strength and structure, we risk bruising, bleeding gums, bleeding from the nose, and poor wound healing. This condition is known as subclinical scurvy and is often accompanied by a number of other symptoms. Scurvy, the classical deficiency disease and the final consequence of a vitamin C deficiency, causes lethal internal bleeding.

Alcoholics often lack vitamin C

Although vitamin C’s many functions are commonly known, there seems to be disagreement when it comes to the therapeutic value of taking supplements. Several randomized studies have been conducted in the hope of lowering death rates in large population groups, but they have failed to demonstrate a positive correlation. Then again, these studies have not taken into account the specific subgroups like alcoholics, and they have not investigated the effect of prolonged use of vitamin C.
In 1978, Baines, in a study of 35 patients with alcohol-related diseases, reported that 91 percent of the patients lacked vitamin C, and 31 percent lacked vitamin B1.
Meanwhile, studies from the 1980s have demonstrated that lack of vitamin C most probably has a negative impact on alcohol abuse, while supplementing with the nutrient can have a positive effect. Other studies show a link between acute alcohol consumption and increased excretion of vitamin C. Consuming three to four alcohol units may increase the excretion of vitamin C by as much as 47 percent compared with not drinking any alcohol.

Facts about alcoholic units (beer, wine and liqueur)

  • One unit equals 12 grams (1.5 cl) of 100% pure alcohol (ethanol)
  • A regular beer represents one unit
  • One shot of strong liqueur (4 cl, 50% alcohol) equals 1.3 units
  • A bottle of wine equals approximately six units

Alcoholics have difficulty with absorbing and utilizing vitamin C

If you consume more than 80 grams of alcohol (ethanol) daily, or the equivalent of six to seven units, you may develop several of the symptoms that characterize subclinical scurvy and actual scurvy.
It is commonly known that alcohol abuse can lead to a vitamin B1 deficiency, which can cause encephalitis and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, and it can also result in a vitamin B3 deficiency with pellagra and neurological disturbances. However, vitamin C deficiency remains an overlooked problem.
In 1981, Mujamdar and his team of researchers observed that intravenous vitamin C injections (500 mg daily) given to alcoholics for a brief period could raise their blood levels of vitamin C significantly. Still, this was not observed in 16 out of the 25 patients. The study was in line with earlier studies of alcoholics, where the participants took oral vitamin C supplements for as long as three months before their blood levels of the nutrient returned to their normal range.
Mujamdar claims that alcohol poisoning prevents the body from absorbing vitamin C and other vitamins properly. At the same time, it impairs the liver’s ability to utilize these vitamins that are important for countless enzymatic and metabolic processes.
Studies even suggest that vitamin C protects against the toxic effects of acetaldehyde, which is a metabolic waste product that is produced during the breakdown of ethanol. Mujamdar even believes that vitamin C has the ability to protect against the biochemical basis for alcohol dependence, which is because of acetaldehyde’s stimulating effect on the opiate receptors of the brain.

Facts about alcohol abuse (in Denmark)

  • Around 900,000 Danes drink more than what the guidelines recommend
  • About 650,000 Danes drink an amount of alcohol that is harmful to their health
  • A large alcohol intake increases your risk of infections, depression, liver ailments, lung diseases, gastro-intestinal diseases and cancer
  • 5.6 percent of deaths in Denmark are alcohol-related
  • Alcohol abuse is believed to cost Danish tax payers around DKR 13 billion every year

Guidelines needed for vitamin C

WHO and health authorities in many countries acknowledge that alcoholics risk deficiencies of vitamin B1 and other B vitamins, but guidelines for vitamin C are missing. Although plenty of evidence suggests that vitamin C is relevant for alcoholics, only studies of ethanol-poisoned mice have been presented, not studies of humans. The scientists behind the new review article published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health point out in their conclusion that the problem with vitamin C deficiencies among chronic alcoholics needs to be included in the scientific literature. Also, they call for larger studies of the effect of vitamin C supplementation of alcoholics that include blood samples, liver samples, and skin samples. This may help prevent deficiencies and establish the clinical basis for treating alcoholics with vitamin C. Such intervention with supplements would be quite inexpensive.

Larger quantities of vitamin C with increased need

Alcohol increases the need for vitamin C. The most important way to make sure to get enough of the nutrient is to eat a diet that contains plenty of vitamin C-rich foods that also provide many other nutrients and dietary fiber. When choosing vitamin C supplements, it is a good idea to look at products that contain non-acidic forms of vitamin C such as calcium ascorbate that is gentle towards the stomach lining. A supplement with 500-750 mg of vitamin C contains the same amount of vitamin C as 10-15 oranges or 50-75 apples.

Important: Alcohol also causes unstable blood sugar and depletes the body of several B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc.


Daniel James Lim et al. Vitamin C and alcoholics: a call to action. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & health 2018

Baines M Detection and incidence of B- and C vitamin deficiency in alcohol-related illness. Ann Clin Biochem 1978

Hara Estroff Marano. The Cognitive benefits of Vitamin C. Psychology Today 2018

Pernille Lund. Sådan får du styr på dit blodsukker. Ny Videnskab 2013

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