Alcoholism is a serious health issue taking its toll on the global population. While a drink now and then is unlikely to cause harm, heavy drinking leads to addiction. People who partake in heavy drinking multiple times a month put themselves at risk. The NIAAA reports1 that an estimated 6.3% of adults in the US are heavy drinkers.
Heavy alcohol use can be damaging to the human body. A person who drinks regularly may experience a wide range of health effects. Alcoholism is a disease that can affect both physiological and psychological health.
Recovering from alcoholism takes time. Aiding the body in the recovery process can make things a little easier. Adding zinc to one’s diet may be one way to help with the recovery from alcoholism, yet this is an option that is not frequently discussed with the patient. We will look at the role of zinc in alcoholism recovery and consider why recovering addicts should consider adding this mineral to their diet.
How Alcoholism Affects The Body
The body depends on numerous systems to work in harmony together. Every system performs a specific function. Together, organs, blood, and other parts of the body allow us to get through the day. These systems also allow the heart to beat, cells to receive adequate nutrition, and our brains to have enough oxygen and energy to think clearly.
When a person drinks alcohol, it acts as a depressant on the central nervous system. This is generally an acute effect that only lasts temporarily. As the effect wears off, the nervous system’s activities return to normal.
In people who drink heavily or more frequently, a more consistent depressant effect on the nervous system may be experienced. Additionally, alcohol starts to cause gradual damage to internal structures. Once a person reaches the point of alcoholism, they are at a greater risk of experiencing the damaging effects associated with alcoholism.
Understanding how alcohol affects the system and body, in general, is important. We will take a look at a few of the most important adverse effects associated with alcohol below.
- Immune System: Alcoholism can impact the functionality and efficacy of the immune system2. The body’s immune system is responsible for dealing with invading pathogens. When it becomes less effective, it means the body is more prone to developing infections and disease. This is why there is a greater risk for pneumonia, cancer, and tuberculosis in alcoholic patients.
- Reproductive Health: Alcoholism can also have an impact on a person’s reproductive health. Additionally, sexual function can be affected too. Among men, there may be a reduction in testosterone production3. Alcoholism is also associated with a higher risk of erectile dysfunction in men. Even among female patients, risks also remain. Alcoholism can interfere with the production of essential sex hormones and cause a cessation of menstrual cycles.
- Digestive Health: Alcohol tends to cause digestive problems too. In alcoholism, it is relatively common to find internal bleeding, ulcers4, and heartburn among patients. Hemorrhoids are also a complication of alcoholism. Alcoholism can reduce nutrient absorption in the digestive tract. This can also lead to nutritional deficiencies, which produces further problems for the patient. It is also important to note that excessive alcohol use damages the gut flora – which refers to the good bacteria that live in the digestive tract.
- Pancreas: Alcohol can also affect the pancreas. It makes the pancreas less efficient at producing insulin. The effect of alcoholism on the excretory system then causes toxic production, which damages the pancreas.
Of course, alcoholism also causes damage to the liver. In fact, this is a very common complication caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Alcoholic liver disease5 can turn into a life-threatening condition. Alcoholism also causes cirrhosis of the liver and has been linked to jaundice and hepatitis.
In some cases, excessive scar tissue can cause severe liver damage.
Among men, prostate inflammation also seems to be linked to alcoholism. Male patients who are heavy drinkers have a higher risk of developing inflammation in the prostate gland.
Recovering from Alcoholism
The first step to reducing the effects of alcohol on the body is to quit. Without taking this fundamental step, alcoholism continues to create persistent health problems for a patient.
A large number of people suffering from alcoholism are unsure where to start. Even with a will to stop drinking, it can still be hard to stop. This is why considering the use of an alcohol detox center in Texas, like the one offered at Stonegate Center, is generally recommended. Patients with more severe addiction may need admission to a residential treatment center for alcohol abuse in Texas.
These centers are able to help the patient with their initial withdrawal symptoms. During detoxification, cessation of alcohol use is essential. Within the first two days, the patient will start to experience withdrawal. Symptoms vary from one patient to the next and often depends on the duration and severity of the alcoholism.
During recovery, patients will still experience the adverse effects of alcoholism. Recovery tends to take some time, with some patients needing long-term treatment.
The patient is provided with ongoing support during the recovery process. This generally includes access to support groups and counseling services.
Apart from these supportive services, patients may also be advised to consider their eating habits. Poor eating habits are often seen among patients with alcoholism. The alcohol use already causes a significant reduction in nutrient absorption. Thus, incorporating a healthy diet can assist in the recovery process. It helps the patient’s body recover faster as the right nutrients become available.
Why Zinc May Be Helpful in Alcoholism Recovery
In many cases, the patient is advised to eat healthier – but they are often not provided in-depth information on what to eat. A general diet that is rich in both vitamins and minerals, as well as foods that offer enough protein, should be preferred.
Additionally, the inclusion of certain nutrients may offer additional benefits, including a faster recovery.
Zinc, in particular, is an important mineral that is often overlooked in an alcoholism recovery diet. There are several reasons why a person should consider adding more zinc to their diet during recovery.
When a person suffers from alcoholism, their body is unable to absorb nutrients from food and supplements as effectively. This is why malnutrition is a common complication among men and women who are alcoholics. According to one study6, heavy alcohol consumption can cause deficiencies in micronutrients, as well as general malnutrition. The same study reports that zinc is one particularly common deficiency observed among people with alcoholism.
To understand the purpose, it is important that we consider the effects of alcoholism, as previously discussed.
We will take a look at the roles that zinc may play in the recovery process for alcoholics.
Zinc and the Immune System
One of the major effects of alcoholism lies in how the use of alcohol affects the immune system. The immune system acts as the body’s defense. When there is a pathogen that enters the body, the immune system identifies it as an invader. An immune response is activated in the process, which means white blood cells are sent out to “attack” the invader.
With alcoholism, the immune system becomes less effective. When there are invaders in the body, the immune system may not be able to recognize it immediately. White blood cells can also become too weak to fight against these invaders.
The result is an increase in the risk of disease. This is why alcoholics are so prone to developing the infectious disease as the pathogenic microorganisms are able to invade the body.
Zinc has been found to be present in various areas of immune function.
According to one study7, there are three particularly important areas of the immune system where zinc plays a role. These include:
- Neutrophils immunity cells
- NK cells
- The innate immunity cells
When there is an insufficient concentration of serum zinc in the blood, a person can experience a large number of adverse effects. Some of the complications associated with a zinc deficiency include:
- Appetite may be reduced
- Wounds take longer to heal
- Dysfunction in cell-mediated immune functions
- Abnormal changes in neurosensory functions
- Skin may feel rough
- Mental lethargy
By adding zinc to the diet of a recovering alcoholic, their effects can be avoided. Furthermore, the use of zinc may assist in giving the immune system a much-needed boost. By strengthening the immune system, the patient becomes less suspectable to serious infectious diseases, such as pneumonia.
Zinc and Testosterone Production
Testosterone is the main sex hormone in men and even plays a role in the female body. As mentioned previously, alcoholism tends to affect hormone production in the human body. It is relatively common for men to have a lower-than-normal level of testosterone if they are heavy drinkers.
Testosterone plays several important roles in the body. It is often associated with reproductive health. The hormone helps with the development of healthy sperm. There are, however, other roles of testosterone that should be discussed too.
Testosterone helps with the distribution of fat in men and is responsible for muscle growth. When testosterone levels are low, a man has a greater risk of gaining belly fat and losing muscle mass. Testosterone acts on the mind, too, as low testosterone has been found to affect mental health. Depression, for example, is more common among people with low testosterone levels in their bodies.
Zinc is a mineral that also seems to play a role in the production and secretion of this sex hormone.
In one study8, men were given a daily supplement that contained zinc, as well as magnesium. Each supplement contained 30mg worth of zinc. The participants of the study were asked to take one supplement every day.
Testosterone levels were tested before and after the study period. Researchers found that the zinc supplement led to an increase in free testosterone. This is the type of testosterone that plays the most important role. Free testosterone refers to hormones that are freely circulating in the blood circulatory system, which means various parts of the body can make use of these chemicals.
Another study was done on the same subject. In this study, researchers found that zinc may only be effective if there is a deficiency in the mineral. The conclusion here was that men with a zinc deficiency might experience an increase in testosterone if they get more zinc into their bodies.
As we have explained already, nutritional deficiencies are common among alcoholics. Zinc, in particular, seems to decline when a person drinks too much alcohol. With this in mind, a recovering alcoholic will likely have a low level of zinc in their body.
Increasing Zinc Intake
There are different ways in which zinc intake can be increased. One option is to utilize a supplement that contains zinc as an ingredient. This is a sure way to get a specific amount of zinc each day.
Patients should also consider adding foods that are rich in zinc to their diets. Some of the best high-zinc foods include:
- Fortified bread
- Fortified cereals
Heavy alcohol use can cause damage to several aspects of health, including both physical and mental well-being. Zinc is a mineral that plays a role in keeping cells functional. The mineral is involved in immune regulation and may also affect hormone secretion. Adding zinc to a diet during alcoholism recovery might assist in repairing the immune system and promoting healthier cellular functions.
1 NIAAA. Alcohol Facts and Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
2 Alcohol Research & Health. (2010) Focus On: Alcohol and the Immune System. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3887500/#:~:text=Alcohol%20abuse%20suppresses%20multiple%20arms,greater%20patient%20morbidity%20and%20mortality.
3 Alcohol Health And Research World. (1998) Alcohol’s Effects on Male Reproduction. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3887500/#:~:text=Alcohol%20abuse%20suppresses%20multiple%20arms,greater%20patient%20morbidity%20and%20mortality.
4 Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research. (1994) An examination of the alcohol consumption and peptic ulcer association – results of a national survey. [online] Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8198212/
5 StatPearls. (2020) Alcoholic Liver Disease. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546632/
6 Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. (2017) Development, Prevention, and Treatment of Alcohol-Induced Organ Injury: The Role of Nutrition. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513692/
7 Molecular Medicine. (2008) Zinc in Human Health: Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2277319/#:~:text=Zinc%20affects%20multiple%20aspects%20of,are%20affected%20by%20zinc%20deficiency.
8 Journal of Exercise Physiology. (2000) Exercise Nutrition. [online] Available at: https://www.asep.org/asep/asep/BrillaV2.PDF
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction & pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center to the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.