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Psychiatric effects of nutritional deficiencies in alcoholism

    Malnutrition is common in chronic alcoholics. A nutrient deficiency in alcoholics also leads to neurotransmitter dysfunction. Summary of an older, very comprehensive scientific review.

    Hypocalcemia (too little calcium), hyponatremia (too little sodium), hypokalemia (too little potassium) and hypophosphatemia (too little phosphate) have all been associated with chronic alcoholism. Low serum magnesium, selenium and zinc levels are also observed in alcoholism. Deficiencies in water-soluble vitamins such as vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B9 and C and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K have also been found in alcoholics.

    General causes of malnutrition in alcoholics are insufficient nutrient intake, in particular a lack of water-soluble vitamins in the diet, reduced absorption, impaired utilization, an increased need for nutrients and a genetic predisposition to nutrient deficiency.

    Nutrient deficiencies are therefore a virtually inevitable consequence of alcohol abuse, not only because alcohol displaces food, but also because alcohol directly interferes with the body’s utilization of nutrients, rendering them ineffective even when they are present.

    Chronic alcoholics exhibit a number of neurological disorders related to nutrient deficiencies, particularly vitamin deficiencies, which are essential for normal brain function. Specific vitamin and nutrient deficiencies that occur in chronic alcoholics can lead to severe functional impairment and tissue damage, mainly neuronal and vascular, in the brain.

    Nutritional deficiency in alcoholics also leads to dysfunction of neurotransmitters, ion channels, oxidative stress and metabolic disturbances in the brain. Nutritional deficiencies in chronic alcoholics often result in mild to moderate cognitive impairment, including impaired perceptual-motor skills, visuospatial functioning, learning/memory, and abstraction and problem-solving abilities.

    There are a number of nutritional deficiencies that need to be addressed, but magnesium, thiamine and other B vitamins need to be administered immediately. Nutritional therapy can help with recovery from alcoholism. Patients who received nutritional therapy reported significantly less alcohol craving as well as significantly higher nutrient intake, and a greater number of them became abstinent from alcohol.

    Although abstinence and proper nutrition remain the cornerstones of treatment, pharmacological modification of neurotransmitter function and/or improvement of cerebral metabolism in combination with behavioral methods may also be beneficial, the scientists concluded back in 2005.

    This is only a rough summary. The original paper can be found here.

    Image: diapicard / Pixabay

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