People who habitually drink excessive amounts of alcohol may develop deficiencies of a number of essential nutrients, including vitamin D. In turn, deficiency of this particular vitamin may contribute to a range of damaging health outcomes. In a study published in November 2014 in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, a team of Spanish researchers sought to estimate how often people with alcoholism who end up dying have unusually low vitamin D levels. The researchers looked at people with advanced liver disease, as well as those with less substantial liver damage.
Vitamin D and Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is unique among the vitamins required for healthy function of the human body. One form of the vitamin comes from food sources, just like other vitamins. However, the body can also produce vitamin D on its own by absorbing a certain type of radiation, called ultraviolet B radiation, which naturally occurs in sunlight. Essential jobs of the vitamin include bone formation, maintenance of normal kidney and intestine function, maintenance of normal immune system function and maintenance of the pancreas gland, which produces insulin. The liver plays an important role in making vitamin D available in a usable form.
Vitamin D deficiency is a fairly common phenomenon. Potential underlying causes for such a deficiency include consumption of a diet that lacks sufficient amounts of the nutrient, failure to gain adequate access to sunlight exposure, poor absorption of the vitamin D contained in your diet, unusual lack of response to the nutrient’s normal effects and poor processing of the nutrient. Apart from liver dysfunction, potential consequences of a vitamin D deficiency include bone deformities, painful bones, painful muscles and weak muscles.
Alcohol, Liver Disease and Vitamin D
Alcoholic liver disease is the commonly used term for a group of three liver-related ailments that can appear in people who habitually consume alcohol in heavy amounts. These ailments are alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis (liver inflammation) and alcoholic cirrhosis (liver scarring). Alcoholic fatty liver disease is relatively mild condition, while alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis can produce advanced, potentially fatal problems with liver function. Another liver ailment, called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, has been previously linked to a lack of vitamin D. In a study review published in 2013 in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, a team of American researchers identified the presence of vitamin D deficiency in people with this condition; however, the researchers could not determine if vitamin D deficiency precedes non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or, conversely, if non-alcoholic fatty liver disease precedes vitamin D deficiency.
Alcoholism, Vitamin D Deficiency and Mortality
In the study published in Alcohol and Alcoholism, researchers from Spain’s University of La Laguna used a project involving 128 adults to explore the possible connection between vitamin D deficiency, alcoholism and the rate of mortality in people affected by alcoholism. All of these adults had originally received treatment for alcoholism in a hospital setting and also received further treatment in an outpatient setting. The researchers examined the liver health of each participant and separated those individuals with cirrhosis (an irreversible form of liver disease) from those individuals who didn’t have cirrhosis. They also made nutritional assessments of each participant that included his or her vitamin D levels.
The researchers concluded that only two factors not related to vitamin D levels clearly help predict fatal outcomes in people affected by alcoholism: having severe liver cirrhosis and living to a relatively advanced age. However, they also concluded that, among those individuals with no cirrhosis, a low vitamin D level is related to increased chances of dying. In addition, the researchers concluded that a low vitamin D level in a person with alcoholism is related to liver problems in general, as well as low body weight.
Overall, the study’s authors note the frequency of a lack of adequate vitamin D in people affected by alcoholism. They also note the connection between a vitamin D deficiency and increased odds that an alcoholic free from cirrhosis (the worst form of alcoholic liver disease) will nevertheless die prematurely. Doctors can correct a vitamin D deficiency through means that include the use of vitamin D supplements and correction of other nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to vitamin D deficiency. Dietary supplementation of the vitamin can potentially stop deficiency from occurring in the first place.