Drinking alcohol is commonplace in American culture. Because of this fact, drinking too much alcohol is often overlooked, or not considered an issue if the drinking is not chronic. Regardless, it is widely known that numerous health problems have been associated with heavy drinking. But, can alcohol cause anemia? You may be asking, what’s anemia?

Anemia is a condition where the body does not make enough red blood cells, or properly functioning red blood cells, which are needed to carry and deliver oxygen throughout the body. Red blood cells are constantly turned over by the body, so too much red blood cell destruction can also lead to anemia.

While alcohol and anemia are generally not thought to be related, drinking too much alcohol can lead to anemia.

Alcohol’s Effect on Red Blood Cells

Alcohol can impact red blood cell production as it decreases the number of precursor cells in the bone marrow, resulting in fewer mature red blood cells to be made. In addition to this, alcohol can also impact red blood cell maturation, causing abnormality (shapes) or dysfunction of the cells. When enlarged red blood cells (due to alcohol) are produced, as a complication, they are likely to be destroyed faster than normal cells.

Alcohol may also affect how nutrients are absorbed from food. Alcohol-induced malnutrition tends to lead to iron and folic acid deficiencies, which are needed for the proper formation of hemoglobin (a red protein responsible for transporting oxygen). When hemoglobin is not made properly, red blood cells cannot carry as much oxygen, or they may not mature properly, reducing red blood cell numbers.

Alcoholism and Anemia: A Short- or Long-Term Effect?

While anemia can be observed in the days immediately following heavy drinking, chronic alcohol use is more likely to cause certain types of anemia and result in additional long-term health issues, such as anemia’s association with chronic liver disease.

Symptoms of Alcohol-Induced Anemia

Because the human body needs oxygen to function properly and red blood cells deliver oxygen throughout the body, anemia can be a serious condition. For people who drink heavily, it is important to know the symptoms of anemia and to speak to a doctor if they start to experience any of these symptoms.

The symptoms of anemia include:

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Pale or yellow skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Cold hands, feet or other extremities
  • Headaches
  • Reduced mental capacity

Is Anemia from Alcohol Abuse Preventable or Reversible?

Anemia from alcohol abuse is reversible. Most individuals will see an improvement in red blood cell counts after a period of abstinence from alcohol, returning to normal red blood cell formation and function.

If the alcohol-induced anemia was due to a deficiency in iron or folic acid absorption, the intake of these nutrients can be increased by taking a supplement or by improving a person’s diet. Though, the best way to prevention is to not abuse alcohol.

Key Points: Anemia and Alcohol

The overuse of alcohol can produce many detrimental health issues, including alcohol-induced anemia. Some important points to remember with regard to anemia and alcohol:

  • Drinking too much alcohol, no matter how often, can lead to anemia
  • Anemia is a reduction in the function of or the number of red blood cells
  • Alcohol-induced anemia can be reversed by abstaining from alcohol consumption

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction, The Recovery Village can help. To learn more about comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment plans, contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative.

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