Nutrients depleted by alcohol and drugs

The Vitl Nutrition Team / 30 Jul 2021

Our in-house nutritionist discusses the most notable nutrient depletions caused by alcohol and drugs.


It has been established that alcohol and some medications can deplete certain nutrients’ bioavailability and utilisation in our body. In other words, certain substances can lead to the depletion of some nutrients in the body, leaving it at risk of lacking adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals, as well as live friendly bacteria, such as probiotics. 

Here, we highlight the most important and well-documented nutrient depletions by specific drug categories, as well as alcohol. Please note that you are strongly recommended to always follow your doctor’s advice when considering supplementation if you suffer from a chronic disease or receive chronic pharmaceutical treatment.


Chronic and excessive alcohol drinkers can frequently be found to be deficient in one or more vitamins. The deficiencies commonly involve folate, vitamin B6, thiamine (B1), and vitamin A. Although insufficient dietary intake is a major cause of the vitamin deficiency, other possible mechanisms may also be involved, such as disruption of the absorption, storage, metabolism, and activation of many of these vitamins caused by alcohol.1 


Antibiotics can upset our gut flora’s activities and metabolism. They can deplete certain minerals, vitamin K and vitamin B12. Antibiotics also affect our gut motility, transit time and colon processes, all involved in normal nutrient absorption. Which is why supplementation with these nutrients, as well as probiotics, is strongly recommended during and shortly after antibiotic use.2 

Oral contraceptives

It has been shown that women on oral contraceptives (birth control) may be at risk of depletion of nutrients such as folic acid, B vitamins, vitamin C and E and the minerals magnesium, selenium and zinc. Since it cannot be guaranteed that women on birth control have an adequate diet or that they may not suffer from any malabsorption abnormality, the possibility to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies by taking appropriate supplements should be highly considered.3 

Cholesterol reducing statins

Statins have long been found to reduce the amount of naturally occurring coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) in the body. Because CoQ10 plays a role in muscle energy production, some research suggests that taking CoQ10 can reduce muscle pain, a common side effect of statins.4


Corticosteroids as a pharmaceutical treatment are mainly used to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system’s responses. They are used to treat conditions such as asthma, allergic rhinitis and hay fever, where the reaction of our immune system needs to be suppressed.

Long-term use of corticosteroids can decrease calcium absorption and increase its excretion via urine. This may have a big impact on bone health, and increase the risk of osteoporosis, especially in older populations. For people who are using corticosteroids long-term, supplementation of calcium and vitamin D is frequently required. (The vitamin D aids calcium absorption.) 5 

Short-term medication use will not lead to nutrient deficiency, but long-term use may interfere with your body's ability to absorb nutrients or produce them. If you are on long-term use of any medication, you are highly recommended to monitor your vitamins and minerals blood levels, to avoid any deficiency. Please note that there are many other drug-nutrient depletions; here we listed the most well known and well researched. Always consult your doctor before engaging in any lifestyle or diet change if you suffer from a chronic disease or receive chronic pharmaceutical treatment. 


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