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One or Two Drinks a Day Can Lower Vitamin B

By Judy McBride
January 21, 1997

Just one or two alcoholic drinks a day can interfere with people's B vitamin levels, scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service report.

In a study of 41 men and women, blood levels of vitamin B12 dropped when the volunteers consumed five percent of their daily calories as alcohol. Over the long term, compromising B12 status could impair memory, giving the impression of senility where there's no disease. Most Americans get ample B12 in animal products such as eggs and dairy foods.

Researchers also looked at levels of folate in the blood. Folate helps transform a substance called homocysteine in the blood into a nontoxic amino acid. High levels of homocysteine have been linked with risk of heart disease and stroke.

Folate levels didn't drop with alcohol consumption, but they rose significantly during the alcohol-free period. Homocysteine levels went down during the alcohol-free period.

The findings help to settle a long-standing debate over the cause of low B vitamins in alcoholics. Some health professionals argue that it is due to alcoholics' poor nutrition, while other attribute it to the alcohol degrading the vitamins. Both factors appear to contribute.

Scientific contact: Judith Hallfrisch, USDA-ARS Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-8396, e-mail