Alcohol is a drink made from fermented fruits or plant products. It is used since centuries by mankind to ease pain/sorrow or for some celebration. With scientific studies done in the past few decades, its adverse health effects are now known. Still many are unaware of it or even while knowing, they find it difficult to quit.
It affects the nutrition of individuals and this is a lesser known ill effect. Alcohol tends to improve appetite in some, because of its euphoriant effect on brain. But in majority, it reduces appetite and hence quantity of food taken.
High amount of calories are present in alcohol, about 7 Kilo calories/gram, but no other nutrients. Thus individuals drinking regularly may become obese, but are deprived of essential nutrients and suffer from chronic malnutrition.
Apart from obesity, blood levels of fat and glucose are increased which become the cause for increase in hypertension, diabetes and heart problems.
Alcohol has a direct irritant, inflammatory effect on the inner lining of the stomach. This causes burning pain in the upper part of stomach and chest with nausea and or vomiting. Chronic use of alcohol causes inflammation of the pancreas. This leads to severe pain in upper abdomen which is relieved by bending forwards. Due to these problems, a person is not able to eat adequately and overall food intake is reduced. This contributes to physical weakness and malnourishment.
Regular alcohol intake tends to drive out some essential nutrients from the body. The most vital being folic acid (a component of vitamin B.complex). Normally liver contains adequate folate to meet the requirement of the body. But alcohol depletes folate from the liver. Thus folate levels rise in the blood and it is expelled from the kidneys.
Resultant deficiency damages the cells of the intestine and impairs digestion. Thereafter, the person is unable to eat food adequately, which harms his overall nutritional status. Folate deficiency also causes deficiency of blood and impairs the body’s ability to regenerate damaged cells.
This is a risk factor for cancer of the colon and rectum and augments weakness. Alcohol deprives the body of Pyridoxine (vitamin B6), this results in damage to the nerves causing burning sensation in the feet and palms.
Alcohol also causes malnutrition due to its interference with absorption and metabolism of essential nutrients of the body. Cells of the intestine fail to absorb vitamins B.complex causing deficiency in the body.
This manifests as ulcers over the tongue and lips and around mouth, dryness of the skin, abnormal sensations in the limbs and muscular weakness. One can also develop photophobia, i.e. headache occurring after exposure to sunlight,
As alcohol damages liver cells, they lose their ability to metabolize vitamin D. The result is weakening of the bones. In elderly, this can cause pathological fractures i.e. spontaneous breaking of the bones without any trauma.
Normally cells of the retina (curtain of the eye where an image is fixed) utilize vitamin A for strengthening the vision. Alcohol use, damages vision due to direct damage to retina, as this process of utilization of vitamin A is impaired.
Thus, over a period of time, regular use of alcohol (greatly) impairs the nutrition of a person and results in chronic malnutrition. An alcoholic never feels as energetic and fresh as his counterparts who are not alcoholics. He/she remains more prone to develop infections and other diseases as well because body’s immunity is lowered due to malnutrition. This happens irrespective of the type of alcohol taken.
It is a myth that some types of drinks are safe because alcohol content is low. But this is a false belief. Any type of alcohol taken regularly is harmful for overall nutritional status of a person.
Dr. Rachna Pande
Specialist Internal medicine
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