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Deficiency of vitamin B1 in people with alcohol addiction

Deficiency of vitamin B1 in people with alcohol addiction

August 10 | By Rachael

People grappling the problem of drinking always run short of essential nutrients due to the immense damages inflicted upon some of the key body organs like the liver. One of such nutrients is thiamine (also commonly known as vitamin B1) that plays a crucial role in ensuring healthy brain functioning is diminished to incredibly low levels due to alcohol-induced brain damage.

Vitamin B1 is usually prescribed for treating people afflicted with alcoholism, particularly during the withdrawal period. It is a coenzyme involved in the metabolization of food and maintenance of proper heart and nerve function. The thiamine-using enzymes are required for innumerable crucial biochemical processes in the body, including the synthesis of certain brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), production of molecules in nucleic acids, and production of fatty acids, steroids and certain complex sugar molecules. Since the risk of persistence of thiamine deficiency exists even after the successful withdrawal from alcohol, there is a need for an effective treatment to overcome the deficit.

Vitamin B1 cannot be synthesized by our body and can only be obtained by eating foods rich in it, such as nuts, oats, oranges, seeds, eggs, legumes, peas, yeast, liver, red meat, etc. As per the guidelines available, a daily intake of 1.1 mg thiamine is recommended for adult women and 1.2 mg for adult men. Since people indulging in excessive drinking tend to ignore their regular diet, they often suffer from malnutrition and nutrient deficiency, including vitamin B1.

Acute alcohol exposure also interferes with the absorption of the vitamin B1 from the gastrointestinal tract when its concentration is low. Magnesium deficiency arising from malnutrition brought on by alcohol consumption also causes similar symptoms as witnessed due to vitamin B1 deficiency, thereby aggravating the already perilous condition.

Understanding Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome

Since the thiamine levels in the blood of people who are dependent on alcohol are very low compared to those with no history of alcohol abuse, there is an increased chance of developing Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), which is a chronic neurological disorder that causes a range of life-disruptive symptoms like mental confusion, amnesia, impaired short-term memory, depression, muscle weakness, etc.

Most people diagnosed with the disorder WKS also report not eating much food in addition to drinking a lot of alcohol, which is a crucial factor contributing to the deficiency. This disorder consists of two distinct components that include a severe and short-lived condition called Wernicke’s encephalopathy (WE) and a long–lasting and debilitating condition known as Korsakoff’s psychosis.

Some of the warning signs that can indicate WE include mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes and an inability to coordinate movements of the lower limbs. Though a patient may not exhibit all the symptoms, the presence of even one symptom could indicate the onset of WE.

Similarly, Korsakoff’s psychosis is characterized by loss of “new” memory. While patients have difficulty processing the latest information, they can remember seemingly minute details of their lives prior to their illness. It is a chronic neuropsychiatric syndrome and because of the characteristic memory impairments, it is often called amnestic disorder.

Although it is not clear whether WE precedes Korsakoff’s psychosis, it is advised that the presence of any of the symptoms of the latter, such as memory impairments, should not be taken lightly and considered during the diagnosis of WKS.

Path to an alcohol-free life

People dependent on alcohol need to be especially careful of the effects of thiamine deficiency as their bodies lose the ability to absorb the required amounts of thiamine even when available. The recovering patients are likely to attain sobriety only after an intense intake of thiamine or vitamin B1. They are likely to witness significant improvement in their memory, motor control and other cognitive-behavioral skills only after following a strict food regimen of thiamine-rich food. Therefore, it is essential to consult an expert to identify the warning signs and determine ways to overcome vitamin B1 deficiency.

If you or your loved one is fighting alcohol addiction, contact the Colorado Alcohol Addiction Help for guidance on the best facilities offering alcohol treatment in Colorado. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-592-9261 or chat online with our counselors to know about some of the finest alcohol addiction treatment centers in Colorado.