Alcohol Use and Folate Deficiency: When and How to Make Changes
While alcohol use is certainly not a new phenomenon, in recent years, the alcohol lifestyle--bourbon goes with everything, “wine mom,” craft beer culture--may be an indicator that there are more individuals drinking more than they should when it comes to their overall health.
“the use of alcoholic beverages to excess, either on individual occasions (binge drinking) or as a regular practice. For some individuals, children or pregnant women, for example, almost any amount of alcohol use may be legally considered 'alcohol abuse.'
If you fall into any alcohol overuse category, or even if you don’t--because our bodies are unique and tolerate alcohol differently from person to person--your health is likely suffering. Folate deficiency is one of the more common, but less known, by-products of regular alcohol consumption, and folate deficiency comes with its own set of negative health side effects.
Some ways folate deficiency can change your health:
- prolonged diarrhea
- loss of appetite/weight loss
- gray hair
- mouth sores
- tongue swelling
- growth problems
More serious complications
- persistent fatigue
- pale skin
- shortness of breath
Other serious conditions
--low levels of white blood cells and platelets
--serious birth defects in the spinal cord and brain of a developing fetus (neural tube defects)
How does alcohol interfere with folate?
have shown that when excessive amounts (and remember, “excessive” looks different from person to person) of alcohol are consumed, the intestines won’t absorb nutrients effectively.
If the intestines don’t absorb as much folate, even less gets taken in by the liver. Add in the kidneys’ tendency to release more folate through your urine when alcohol is in excess, and there’s just not much folate left for your body to use.
Where you are on the spectrum
- NIAAA defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which conducts the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), defines binge drinking as 5 or more alcoholic drinks for males or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past month.
What you can do to get healthier
- Reduce/eliminate alcohol consumption.
From taking alcohol out of the house to setting “how many days/how many drinks” goals, here are ways to work on reducing or completely eliminating alcohol from your routine.
- If you drink regularly but are not ready to curb that habit, seek out a diet that helps to offset the effects of alcohol.
- Add supplements to your diet. The reality is, people who knowingly drink in excess often don’t follow healthy eating habits; plus, if you have MTHFR, diet alone is likely not enough. Finding the most readily absorbable L-methylfolate and other B-complex vitamin supplements can help.