Alcohol depletes your stores of vitamins and minerals
- which your brain, nervous system, and liver need
A cold beer with lunch or a glass of red wine to go with your steak may be tempting. In fact, alcohol in limited amounts can be relaxing and it provides beneficial antioxidants. However, Danes drink too much, and our excessive alcohol consumption is one of the worst threats to public health. Many alcoholics suffer from unstable blood sugar levels, which can have a rather bad impact on their willpower. In addition, the empty calories deplete the body’s levels of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids, on which the nervous system, the brain, and the liver depend. This can easily turn into a vicious cycle. Therefore, having stable blood sugar and making sure to get plenty of vital nutrients is important for preventing and treating alcohol abuse.
Most of us have tried getting drunk and suffering from the following hangover, which is a sign of acute alcohol poisoning. A large consumption of alcohol, especially if you do it for an extended period, may contribute to a number of conditions such as depression, impaired immunity, gastrointestinal diseases, lung and muscle diseases, serious liver ailments, brain inflammation, several cancer forms, and premature death. Add to that the lack of sleep, the fatigue, the hot flushes, and the other hormone problems, accidents, and personal, social, and socio-economic consequences that follow in the wake of consuming too much alcohol.
Denmark has a higher number of young drinkers than any other European country. An early debut and drinking a lot at a young age increases your risk of becoming a heavy drinker later in life.
Luckily, this drinking culture is changing. Four out of five Danes in the age group 15-20 years do not get drunk every single weekend, according to a report called “Young Danes and their drinking habits in 2017”. Still, there is room for improvement.
Alcohol and socio-economic costs
The statistiscs show that every year, 13 billion Danish Crowns are spent on treating individuals with a registered overconsumption of alcohol. This figure, however, fails to include the costs that are linked to concealed alcoholism, reduced work ability, accidents, rehabilitation, sheltered housing etc.
Why alcohol and unstable blood sugar levels give you a weak character
In far too many cases, treatments, counselling, support groups, and promises to abstain from drinking fail to produce the desired result, even though the experts involved in helping are both experienced and caring, and the person with the alcohol problem is motivated. The simple explanation to this is that many alcoholics have unstable blood sugar, which is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Under normal circumstances, the brain and nervous system only use carbohydrates for energy, whereas the muscles and the heart use fat and protein, as well. Consuming alcohol or refined carbohydrates such as candy, cake, soft beverages, white bread, chips, pizza and other types of junk food provides our cells with fast energy. When we drink, the liver breaks down the alcohol, and as long as it is busy doing this, it cannot release extra glucose to the bloodstream. As a result, our blood sugar levels drop, and the cells suffer an energy shortage. This happens when you drink alcohol or when you consume fast (refined) carbohydrates. In fact, there are many similarities between excessive food intake and alcohol abuse, and both situations tend to undermine our willpower. This is why the brain and nervous system suffer a sudden energy shortage, which causes the “reptile brain” to take over. We are tempted to consume empty calories as a source of fast energy. It all boils down to biochemistry and has nothing to do with having a weak character.
Because empty calories do not provide the nutrients that our cells need for their energy turnover, the body may eventually lack several of these essential vitamins and minerals.
|Alcohol (ethanol) is a carbohydrate, which is quickly absorbed in the blood. On an empty stomach, it only takes about five minutes. In other words, the speed of the absorption depends on how much food is in the stomach, which means that alcohol is absorbed slower if you drink and eat at the same time. Around 90% of the alcohol you consume is converted in the liver with help from enzymes. Women normally metabolize alcohol at a slower rate than men do, and their alcohol tolerance is also lower due to less muscle mass and a lower content of water in the body.
Blood sugar-stabilizing main meals with plenty of protein and chromium
If you want to be able to control your alcohol intake, the first thing you must do is make sure to stabilize your blood sugar with help from main meals that are rich in coarse greens. Make sure to get plenty of protein and healthy fats. You may find inspiration in Paleo diets etc.
Alcohol abuse and a large consumption of sugar, coffee, and other stimulants even deplete your levels of chromium, a trace element that enhances the effect of insulin. Chromium supplements are therefore also relevant when it comes to balancing your blood sugar.
You can find different types of chromium supplements on the market. Organic chromium yeast has the best bioavailability and is absorbed up to 10 times better than synthetically manufactured chromium sources such as chromium picolinate and chromium chloride. Make sure to look at the label when you buy a chromium preparation.
|Many alcoholics, who enter rehab and feel very motivated to stop drinking, find themselves in a hopeless battle against temptation, simply because their blood sugar is out of balance. The same is the case with many drug addicts.
Make sure to get enough B vitamins
Alcohol drains your body of B vitamins, namely vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, biotin, folic acid, and B12. The B vitamins collaborate as a complicated biological team, and they are particularly important for our energy levels, blood cells, nervous system, hormone system, immune system, digestion, skin, and hair.
Because the B vitamins are water-soluble and are not stored in the body, we need to ingest them regularly in order to avoid becoming deficient.
If you drink too much alcohol, it is advisable to take a strong vitamin B complex and to take the vitamins several times a day in order to obtain the best utilization. One can also take B vitamins before or in the course of an evening of heavy drinking, as this may help reduce the following hangover.
|Although beer contains B vitamins, consuming large quantities of beer may inhibit the body’s utilization of vitamin B1 and other B vitamins because of a damaged liver.
Can too much drinking damage the brain?
Yes, at least to some extent.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy (brain inflammation) is an acute and life-threatening condition caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency in the brain. The underlying cause is often prolonged alcohol abuse. Symptoms include loss of consciousness, slurred speech, difficulty walking, and death in worst case. Korsakoff syndrome, another alcohol-induced condition, is also caused by severe vitamin B1 deficiency in the brain and long-term overconsumption of alcohol. Korsakoff syndrome is often seen in combination with Wernicke’s encephalopathy, and the disease is characterized by permanent damage to the memory.
Both conditions are treated by injecting large doses of vitamin B1.
Large doses of vitamin C
Alcohol also drains the body of vitamin C, a nutrient that is important for the nervous system, the mental balance, the immune system, collagen formation (connective tissue), wound healing, and iron uptake. It is recommended to eat plenty of food sources that are rich in vitamin C, as that type of diet also provides other essential nutrients.
Vitamin C supplements with non-acidic vitamin C sources (calcium ascorbate) are gentle toward the stomach lining. A tablet containing 500-750 mg of vitamin C contains the same amount of the nutrient as 10-15 oranges or 50-75 apples.
Alcohol impairs the body’s utilization of vitamin D
We humans produce the lion’s share of the vitamin D we need through a UVB-induced conversion of cholesterol in our skin. This requires sunlight. However, vitamin D must be activated in the liver, and this process may not function optimally if the liver is damaged from drinking too much alcohol. As most of the cells in the body have vitamin D receptors, having too little active vitamin D in the body may have a detrimental effect on bones and teeth, the immune system, the muscles, the cardiovascular system, the brain, and our mood. There is also an increased risk of inflammation. If you drink too much alcohol, make sure to have your blood levels of vitamin D tested and consider a supplement. In any case, most people benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement during the winter period and in situations where they do not expose themselves to enough sunlight.
Magnesium for the nervous system, the blood sugar balance, and for activating vitamin D
Alcohol drains the body of magnesium, a nutrient that fuels more than 300 different enzyme processes. Magnesium is important for the nervous system, muscle, digestion, blood pressure, and bones. A magnesium deficiency may cause trembling, inner unrest, muscle tension, fatigue, and poor sleep, something which many alcoholics experience. Too little magnesium may also result in muscle cramps, constipation, lowered appetite, elevated blood pressure, and an insidious decalcification of the skeleton.
A magnesium deficiency may even impair the body’s ability to utilize vitamin D. This is because we need magnesium-containing enzymes to activate the vitamin D that we synthesize in our skin or take as supplements. This activation takes place in the liver and kidneys.
Many people fail to get enough magnesium, simply because they do not eat enough whole grain, vegetables, nuts, and other good magnesium sources. Drinking alcohol only adds to the deficit. Any substance abuser with a tense nervous system can benefit from taking an easily absorbed magnesium supplement.
|If you have difficulty with falling asleep or sleep poorly, you may benefit from supplements of magnesium and B vitamins taken together with your dinner or before you go to bed.
Zinc is needed for around 300 different enzymes, which control our growth, reproduction, metabolism, nervous system, and immune system. Alcohol drains the body of zinc, and this may lead to a number of adverse health effects. Good sources of zinc are liver, meat, shellfish, dairy products, nuts, seeds, kernels, and beans.
Remember your omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids that we need for our energy turnover, cell membranes, brain, nervous system, and immune defense. We also need them for controlling inflammatory processes and a number of other physiological processes.
It is of vital importance to have the right balance between omega-3 and omega-6. Many people get far too much omega-6, and drinking alcohol can disrupt the balance additionally, thereby increasing the risk of depression, inflammation, and aching joints. Always make sure to get adequate amounts of both essential fatty acids, preferably with more omega-3 and less omega-6. Fish oil supplements are beneficial, as they contain the two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which the body can easily utilize.
|Around 60% of the brain’s dry weight is made up of various fats such as cholesterol, omega-6 (AA), and omega-3 (EPA and DHA). Many people lack the two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.
Fish oil promotes the formation of essential cannabinoids in the brain
A University of Illinois study shows that fish oil with the two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, generates cascades of chemical reactions that promote the formation of cannabinoids in the brain. They are known as endocannabinoids and belong to a group of neuromodulatory lipids and receptors in the brain. In other words, with help from omega-3 fatty acids, the body can produce the same cannabinoids as those found in cannabis oil, only without making you stoned.
The endocannabinoid system (ECBS) is involved in a long list of physiological processes, including:
- The immune defense
- The nervous system
- Pain sensation
- Protection of neurons
Alcohol, food, and nutrients
Useful alcohol guidelines
On behalf of research and knowledge about alcohol intake and disease/death, the following guidelines may come in handy:
- Drinking alcohol, regardless of the amounts consumed, can affect your health
- Don’t drink alcohol in the belief that it is good for you
- Men should stay within a weekly limit of 14 units, whereas women should stay within seven units
- The risk of disease is high when the number of alcoholic units exceeds 21 (men) and 14 (women)
- Avoid drinking more than five units at the same occasion
- Children and youngsters under the age of 16 should not drink alcohol
- Avoid alcohol altogether if you are pregnant
- Be careful with your alcohol intake if you are older
Facts about the alcohol content in beer, wine, and hard liquor
Study: Omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation via cannabinoids. EurekAlert! Science News 2017
Pernille Lund. Sådan får du styr på dit blodsukker. Ny Videnskab 2013
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