Article - ALCOHOL AND VITAMIN B-1
Could Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Save Alcoholics from Memory Loss?
Alcoholic beverages consist primarily of water, pure alcohol (chemically known as ethanol), and variable amount of sugars (carbohydrates). Although alcohol is very high in carbohydrate content, it usually contains negligible amounts of nutrients such as proteins, vitamins and minerals.
Many studies indicate that alcoholics are malnourished for a variety of reasons:
One such important nutrient affected by alcoholic malnourishment is vitamin B1 (thiamine). Thiamine plays a vital role in the breakdown of glucose to produce energy for the brain. Thus, an absence of thiamine results in an inadequate supply of energy to the brain. The areas of the brain most affected by this are the ones associated with regulating memory function the hippocampus and the mammillary bodies. Consequently, thiamine deficiency produces a memory loss disorder called Wernicke-Karsakoff syndrome(WKS).
WKS is typically associated with chronic alcoholism; however, it may be associated with general malnutrition or other conditions that cause nutritional deficiencies. WKS appears to be only one disease that causes alcohol-related dementia. Scientific studies have shown that 22% to 29% of individuals with dementia were found to be heavy drinkers or alcoholics. Also, 9% to 23% of elderly alcoholics in alcohol treatment programs were found to have dementia.
WKS presents in the acute phase (known as Wernicke brain disorder) with the following features:
Tremor-like eye movements or paralysis of the eye muscles.
Weakness in the leg muscles or lack of muscle coordination hand
abnormal tingling sensations in feet and hands
The features of the acute phase of the disease may be similar to the acute effects of alcohol consumption or the effects of alcohol withdrawal. Thus, it is very important that a person presenting these symptoms seek the help of a professional who is very knowledgeable about the disease of alcoholism. A professional will be able to distinguish between the different aspects of the disease presentations. In its chronic form (known as Korsakoff brain disorder), WKS is characterized by a permanent gap in memory.
There is also impairment in the person's ability to learn new information or tasks, coupled with difficulty in remembering previously known facts. People who suffer from WKS may also "confabulate" (make up or invent stories to compensate for poor memory). These individuals may appear confused, apathetic, slow and inattentive. Some individuals may also experience agitation.
If caught early enough, WKS, is a preventable, treatable disease. Treatment consists of thiamine-replacement therapy, sometimes coupled with other vitamins. The administered dosage varies and should be monitored by a physician. If alcohol consumption stops and the patient receives adequate treatment in the early phase of the disease, the patient is likely to have a marked recovery. In the later stages of the disease, where damage to the brain is irreversible, patients are likely to have lasting memory problems and impaired movement due to poor muscle coordination and numbness or weakness of the arm and leg muscles.
In conclusion, alcoholic malnourishment can lead to vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency. This deficiency can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which results in dementia and memory loss. The keys to recovery from this syndrome are early detection, prompt treatment with thiamine-replacement therapy, and abstinence from all forms of alcoholic beverages.
Authored by By Olasimbo Olanusi, MD, FASAM
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