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Determining the repercussions of vitamin B1 deficiency among chronic drinkers

Determining the repercussions of vitamin B1 deficiency among chronic drinkers

June 12 | By Rachael

Vitamin B1 is usually prescribed when treating people afflicted with alcoholism, particularly during the withdrawal period. The levels of the essential nutrient thiamine in the blood of people who are alcohol dependent are very low compared to those with no history of alcohol abuse. In fact, vitamin B1 deficiency is one of the risk factors for the occurrence of the latent alcohol-induced brain damage known as Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome (WKS).

Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is a “helper” molecule that is involved in the construction and proper functioning of several enzymes that are essential for the metabolism of sugar molecules into other molecules. Besides playing a pivotal role in creating other types of molecules, it is responsible for maintaining heart and nerve function. And in combination with other B vitamins, it assists in regulating the important functions of the cardiovascular system, endocrine system and digestive system.

These enzymes thus synthesized 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.

Why does drinking alcohol lead to deficiency in vitamin B1?

Thiamine, a water-soluble vitamin is used in almost each cell of the body, cannot be synthesized by our body and can only be obtained by eating foods, such as nuts, oats, oranges, seeds, eggs, legumes, peas, yeast, liver, red meat, etc. Those who drink excess alcohol tend to ignore a regular and well-balanced diet, resulting in the inadequate nutritional intake of essential vitamins like vitamin B1.

Any kind of exposure to chronic alcohol consumption also disrupts the absorption of the vitamin from the gastrointestinal tract and inappropriate utilization on thiamine in the cells. However, vulnerability to thiamine deficiency and the impact on the different brain region vary from person to person.

The recommended daily intake of thiamine for adults is 1.2 mg/day for men and 1.1 mg/day for women. And, those witnessing low levels of thiamine in the body are advised to take 5 to 30 mg on a daily basis. Before determining the daily dosage of thiamine, it is essential to learn the ways to identify the warning signs or clinical indicators as follows:

  • Fatigue
  • Colitis
  • Anorexia or rapid weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Chronic problems of the gastrointestinal tract, such as diarrhea
  • Nerve damage
  • Nerve inflammation (neuritis)
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Muscle weakness
  • Mental disorders, such as apathy ordepression
  • Cardiovascular effects, such as an enlarged heart

Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome and deficiency in thiamine

Most people diagnosed with 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. WE can be indicated by mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes and an inability to coordinate movements of the lower limbs. All of the above symptoms may not be exhibited at once and the presence of even one symptom could indicate the onset of WE.

Korsakoff’s psychosis, the second phase of WKS, is characterized by loss of “new” memory. Patients have difficulty processing the latest information while 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 by many of the medical practitioners that the presence of any of the symptoms of the latter disorder, such as memory impairments, should be considered as part of the WKS diagnosis.

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. While patients are going through such a debilitating phase, they are recommended to share their innate fears and reprehensions with loved ones, as well undergo an effective treatment immediately.

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 to know about the alcohol addiction treatment centers in Colorado.