Diet composition, alcohol utilization, and dependence

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Experiments were carried out in which a nutritionally balanced liquid diet previously used in this laboratory was modified as to total calorie content and high or low carbohydrate and fat concentration. Ethanol was added at 4.5% and 6.2% of diet weight and provided either 27% or 34-37% of total calories depending upon the changes in nutrient content. Measurements included 8-day food/calorie and ethanol consumption, plasma ethanol level, liver alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) activity, and rate of audiogenic-induced withdrawal seizures. The original liquid diet with 4.5% ethanol was consumed in significantly lesser amounts than the alcohol-free diet, and essentially no body weight gain occurred, regardless if the major nonalcohol, nonprotein calorie source was fat or carbohydrate. When the calorie content of the diet was boosted through the addition of extra carbohydrate or fat (at the expense of water), appreciable weight gain was noted; in the case of the higher calorie diet boosted with more carbohydrate (maltodextrin) calories, growth was similar to that observed on the alcohol-free control diet. On this latter diet ethanol calories appeared to be utilized close to their theoretical value of 7 kcal/g. Blood alcohol levels were significantly higher on the lower calorie diets and were lowest on the high-calorie, high-carbohydrate, 4.5% ethanol diet. This diet also allowed for the lowest rate of withdrawal seizures despite an ethanol intake that was as high as on the lower calorie diets. Essentially, no differences were noted among ADH activities for the dietary treatments studied and thus, did not explain the differences observed among blood ethanol levels. When the alcohol concentration in the high- carbohydrate, high-calorie diet was raised to 6.2% from 4.5% to provide 34% of total calories, the rats responded by decreasing their food (and alcohol) intake to the same level as did the animals receiving a much lower calorie diet, but with 37% of caloric alcohol content. This suggests that at a diet alcohol concentration of 34-37%, one or more nutrient metabolites become limiting in the utilization of ethanol, resulting in food intake adjustments that maintain similar amounts of alcohol consumption.




Fisher, H., Yu, Y. L., Sekowski, A., Federico, E., Ulman, E., & Wagner, G. C. (1996). Diet composition, alcohol utilization, and dependence. Alcohol, 13(2), 195–200.

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