The relationship between folic acid and alcohol is well known, especially since prolonged alcohol exposure severely depletes stores of this vitamin. This article will discuss the importance of folic acid, symptoms of deficiency, and how to easily repair this deficiency while covering other nutritional bases as well.
This is one of a series of articles on Fit Recovery about basic nutrients that are depleted by alcohol. The mainstream addiction treatment industry all but ignores the role of nutrition in conquering alcohol addiction. This glaring omission causes an incalculable amount of preventable suffering.
Fortunately, you’re about to be well ahead of the curve!
Why Do We Need Folic Acid?
Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, plays an important role in supporting nervous system health and breaking down fats and carbohydrates into energy. While folate is found in small quantities in vegetables, folic acid is a synthetic form of the same vitamin that is found in supplements and fortified food products.
Because folic acid is extremely important for the development of fetal spinal and brain tissue, pregnant women often supplement with it. As we will see, folic acid deficiencies later in life can cause a variety of problems. Heavy drinking in particular is one of the most common causes of folate deficiency.
Folic acid is necessary for the following bodily processes:
- Building block for nucleic acid, found in all cells in the body
- Generation of new red blood cells
- Proper hearing function
- DNA and RNA repair
- Brain health
- Nervous system health
- Preventing a wide range of health problems
Because alcohol consumption markedly depletes folic acid levels, doctors often recommend that alcoholics take supplements containing the full range of B vitamins. However, folic acid is one of the few B-vitamins that can cause toxicity in high doses. Careful attention should be paid to dosage, which we will discuss below.
How Alcohol Depletes Folic Acid
Heavy drinking depletes folic acid through a number of mechanisms:
- Diuretic effect – Alcohol significantly increases urinary excretion of folic acid, which is taken from the blood and liver.
- Damaged gut lining – Alcohol directly damages the lining of the stomach and intestines, making it harder to absorb folic acid. Because folic acid is necessary for proper gut absorption, this deficiency makes it even harder to absorb every other nutrient, including folic acid.
- Damaged gut microbiome – Good bacteria that help break down nutrients in food are damaged by alcohol exposure, while harmful strains like candida yeast thrive from alcohol and sugar.
- Foregone calories – Alcoholics tend to make room for alcohol, rather than quality foods that are rich in folate.
- Overworked liver and pancreas – Many nutrients are made available to the body by the liver, but the organ cannot process vitamins and minerals when it is preoccupied with detoxifying alcohol (which it only does at about 1 drink per hour).
- Acetaldehyde – This is the most common toxic byproduct from alcohol, causing hangover symptoms, inflammation, and DNA damage that can lead to cancer. Inflammation further decreases nutrient utilization.
Folic acid is stored in the liver, and folic acid deficiency is a vicious cycle because low levels of this vitamin in the blood lead to increased excretion of folic acid. As chronic alcohol consumption continues, folic acid stores in the liver become even more severely depleted.
Before I quit drinking, I felt strange sensations in my bones and skin that could have been early signs of nerve damage. B-vitamins like folic acid are crucial in reversing nerve damage caused by alcohol addiction.
Symptoms Of Folic Acid Deficiency
In one study, eight out of ten alcoholics had severely depleted blood folate levels, while nearly half met the criteria for clinical deficiency in this crucial vitamin. (source)
Symptoms of folic acid deficiency include:
- Inability to absorb nutrients
- Liver problems
- Kidney problems
- Gut health problems
- Psychological problems
As we have already discussed, deficiency in folic acid and alcohol addiction usually go hand in hand. When I quit drinking, I was deficient in many vitamins and minerals despite being an otherwise active man in my twenties.
The fact that I had an uncharacteristically good diet for someone with severe alcohol dependence did not seem to matter. The B supplement that I took for six months after I quit drinking definitely helped me feel better, and fixing my folic acid deficiency probably helped in more ways than I understood at the time.
Best Brands And Dosage
Fortified cereals and breads are good sources of folic acid, although I personally avoid these foods for other reasons. Dark, leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts are good natural sources of folate. However, since most alcoholics already have poor gut health, it is difficult for them to absorb enough folic acid from foods alone.
People struggling with alcohol addiction need higher doses than the average person with a minor folic acid deficiency. The best way to repair an alcohol-induced folic acid deficiency is through supplementation.
Most folic acid supplements contain 400 mcg, and the maximum dosage is 1,000 mcg per day. A common brand is Sundown Naturals folic acid, which contains 400 mcg of folic acid.
If I were to quit drinking today, I would take two supplements that contain a huge range of other important nutrients while putting total folic acid at 700 mcg per day:
Folic acid is just the tip of the iceberg with these supplements. Between them, they contain a lot of powerful nutrients for biochemical repair.
I took various B-complexes bought from supermarkets after I quit drinking. None of them are nearly as powerful for repairing the vast spectrum of alcohol-induced nutrient deficiencies, including folic acid deficiency, as the combination of Calm Support and Legion Triumph. If I had to quit drinking all over again, I would absolutely use these instead.
There’s a lot of scientific research that supports the use of folic acid supplementation for alcoholics:
- Chronic alcohol consumption leads to folic acid deficiency and increased folate excretion in the urine (source)
- Folic acid deficiency accelerates alcohol-induced liver damage by lowering antioxidant defenses (source)
- Heavy drinkers who are the most deficient in folic acid have a significantly higher incidence of cancer and heart disease (source)
- Folic acid and thiamine may be the two most important B-vitamins for people experiencing alcohol withdrawal (source)
- Folic acid supplementation may reduce the incidence of some cancers for former alcoholics (source)
Unfortunately, most research money in the U.S. goes to studying prescription drugs instead of basic nutrients like folic acid that we need to function properly – yet which cannot be patented.
I hope you’ve learned something useful from this article about folic acid and alcohol.
With nutritional repair and natural remedies, trial and error is the best approach. I’ve never had a bad reaction to vitamins or natural supplements. Some have simply worked much better than others. The best ones have worked so well that they’ve seriously changed my life.
Basic (high quality) supplements are much safer than prescription drugs that mask the symptoms of underlying nutrient deficiencies. Taking medications for symptoms caused by a nutrient deficiency might even be detrimental, because untreated nutrient deficiencies can cause much more serious complications down the road.
If you have any questions about the links between folic acid and alcohol, please post them in the comment box below.