The Influence of Alcohol Consumption on Intestinal Nutrient Absorption: A Comprehensive Review

Nutrients. 2023 Mar 24;15(7):1571. doi: 10.3390/nu15071571.


Chronic alcohol use has been attributed to the development of malnutrition. This is in part due to the inhibitory effect of ethanol on the absorption of vital nutrients, including glucose, amino acids, lipids, water, vitamins, and minerals within the small intestine. Recent advances in research, along with new cutting-edge technologies, have advanced our understanding of the mechanism of ethanol's effect on intestinal nutrient absorption at the brush border membrane (BBM) of the small intestine. However, further studies are needed to delineate how ethanol consumption could have an impact on altered nutrient absorption under various disease conditions. Current research has elucidated the relationship of alcohol consumption on glucose, glutamine, vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B9 (folate), C (ascorbic acid), selenium, iron, and zinc absorption within the small intestine. We conducted systematic computerized searches in PubMed using the following keywords: (1) "Alcohol effects on nutrient transport"; (2) "Alcohol mediated malabsorption of nutrients"; (3) "Alcohol effects on small intestinal nutrient transport"; and (4) "Alcohol mediated malabsorption of nutrients in small intestine". We included the relevant studies in this review. The main objective of this review is to marshal and analyze previously published research articles and discuss, in-depth, the understanding of ethanol's effect in modulating absorption of vital macro and micronutrients in health and disease conditions. This could ultimately provide great insights in the development of new therapeutic strategies to combat malnutrition associated with alcohol consumption.

Keywords: alcohol; brush border membrane; ethanol; intestine; nutrient absorption.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / metabolism
  • Ethanol / pharmacology
  • Glucose / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption*
  • Malnutrition*
  • Nutrients
  • Vitamins / pharmacology


  • Ethanol
  • Vitamins
  • Glucose

Grants and funding

This review was supported by the Veteran’s Administration Merit Review grant BX003443-01 and the National Institutes of Health grants DK-108054, P20GM121299-01A1, and DK-67420 to U. Sundaram.