The relationship between vitamin B12 and alcohol is well known, especially since prolonged alcohol exposure severely depletes stores of this vitamin. This article will discuss the importance of vitamin B12, symptoms of deficiency, and how to 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 healing from alcohol addiction. This glaring omission causes an incredible amount of preventable suffering.
Why Do We Need Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is a water soluble vitamin that is most often associated with energy levels. Many people get vitamin B12 shots, or take oral capsules, to maintain a sense of well-being and high energy.
Vitamin B12 is actually necessary for a large number of bodily processes, including:
- Generation of new red blood cells
- DNA repair
- Brain health
- Short-term memory
- Healthy metabolism
Because alcohol consumption markedly depletes vitamin B12 levels, doctors often recommend that alcoholics take supplements containing the full range of B vitamins.
Vitamin B12 toxicity is extremely rare. Few adverse effects have been reported from healthy people taking very large doses of vitamin B12.
How Alcohol Depletes Vitamin B12
Heavy drinking depletes vitamin B12 through a number of mechanisms:
- Diuretic effect – Alcohol significantly increases urinary excretion of vitamin B12, 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 vitamin B12. This nutrient requires hydrochloric acid and intrinsic factor produced in the stomach lining to be properly absorbed, and alcohol is known to reduce the concentration of both of these digestive compounds.
- Damaged gut microbiome – Alcohol increases strains of bacteria that consume vitamin B12, meaning that less is made available to the body.
- Foregone calories – Alcoholics tend to make room for alcohol, rather than foods – like high quality meat – that are rich in vitamin B12.
- 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.
Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver. As chronic alcohol consumption progressively damages this organ, vitamin B12 stores in the liver become even more severely depleted.
Before I quit drinking, I had extremely low energy levels, tingling sensations in my limbs, and symptoms of an inflamed liver. I later learned that B-vitamin supplementation is crucial in restoring energy levels and reversing nerve damage caused by alcohol addiction.
Symptoms Of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Impaired short-term memory
- Low appetite
- Low blood pressure
- Bone tingling or numbness
As we have already discussed, deficiency in vitamin B12 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 a very healthy diet for someone with severe alcohol dependence did not seem to matter. The B vitamins that I took for six months after I quit drinking definitely helped me feel better, and fixing my vitamin B12 deficiency probably helped in more ways than I understood at the time.
It’s important to note that blood tests for severe alcoholics with damaged livers often show normal to high serum levels of vitamin B12. This is the case because damaged liver cells can no longer maintain crucial stores of vitamin B12, letting them loose into the blood.
Therefore, high blood serum levels for vitamin B12 can actually be a marker of liver disease, rather than a sign that the body overall contains optimal levels of vitamin B12. Supplementation with vitamin B12 may still be appropriate along with alcohol cessation and a plan to repair the liver.
If you have liver disease, be sure to take supplements and medications only under the supervision of a doctor.
How To Repair Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Meat, milk, and cheese are good sources of vitamin B12. However, since most alcohol-dependent people already have poor gut health, it is difficult for them to absorb enough vitamin B12 from foods alone.
People with heavy, long-term exposure to alcohol need higher doses than the average person with a minor vitamin B12 deficiency. The optimal way to repair an alcohol-induced nutrient deficiency is through supplementation.
If I were to quit drinking today, I would take two supplements that contain large doses of vitamin B12:
Vitamin B12 is just the tip of the iceberg with these supplements. Between them, they contain a lot of powerful nutrients for biochemical repair.
Many people have found Calm Support and Sleep Support to be an extremely powerful combination for combatting cravings, getting their energy levels back, and sleeping better after quitting drinking.
You can read my review of Calm Support here, and you can read more about Sleep Support in my article on alcohol withdrawal insomnia.
I never took a standalone B12 supplement, but 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 vitamin B12 deficiency, as the combination of Calm Support and Legion Triumph. If I had to quit drinking all over again, I would absolutely use these two supplements.
Scientific research indicates that alcohol consumption contributes to vitamin B12 deficiency, that supplementation with vitamin B12 can help restore levels of this nutrient, and that alcoholic liver injury results in the purging of vitamin B12 from the liver:
- Moderate drinking among healthy, middle aged women produced a statistically significant reduction in blood serum levels of vitamin B12 (source)
- Supplementation in healthy women over 60 with vitamin B12 and other B-vitamins over 6 months reversed these nutrient deficiencies and decreased levels of homocysteine, a compound associated with cardiovascular disease (source)
- Alcohol consumption in healthy male volunteers reduces B vitamin concentration, including vitamin B12, and raises levels of inflammatory compounds (source)
- In severe alcoholics with liver disease, levels of vitamin B12 in the blood increase as the injured liver fails to hold on to stores of this vitamin (source)
- Falsely high serum levels of vitamin B12 can be caused by alcoholic liver disease (source)
Unfortunately, most research money in the U.S. goes to studying prescription drugs instead of basic nutrients like vitamin B12 that we need to function properly – yet which cannot be patented.
I hope you’ve learned something useful from this article about vitamin B12 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 relationship between vitamin B12 and alcohol, please post them in the comment box below.