1. The metabolic consequences of chronic ethanol feeding was investigated by assay of urinary metabolites. Male Wistar rats were fed a liquid diet containing 35% of total energy as ethanol or isovolumetric, isocaloric and isonitrogenous amounts of the same diet in which ethanol was substituted by isocaloric glucose (controls).
2. At 6 weeks the entire skeletal muscle mass was reduced by approximately 20%. The urinary excretion of nitrogen, urea and uric acid increased by between 23 and 128%. Urinary creatinine excretion was not significantly altered.
3. Urinary excretion of magnesium was significantly increased by 43%. Urinary excretion of sodium, potassium, calcium and phosphate was increased slightly (i.e. 5–22%), but this change was not statistically significant.
4. Proton n.m.r. spectroscopic analysis showed that ethanol feeding reduced the urinary excretion of citrate and 2-oxoglutarate (by approximately 50%), suggesting decreased citric acid cycle activity. There was an increased excretion of alanine (44%), but excretion of succinate and acetate was not significantly altered. Ethanol in the urine of ethanol-fed rats comprised approximately 2% of total ethanol intake and less than 1% of total energy intake.
5. Lactose was detectable in urine of ethanol-fed rats, but not in control rats, reflecting the reported decreased intestinal lactase activity and increased gut permeability in alcoholics. Urinary galactose excretion decreased by 41%, but relatively large increases in lactate excretion (50%) did not achieve statistical significance.
6. It was concluded that chronic ethanol feeding causes disturbances in whole-body nitrogen homoeostasis and alterations in intermediary metabolism.