Alcohol abuse can adversely affect just about every organ in the body, however, the damage it causes to the brain can be quite significant. This damaging effect can be aggravated if the person dependent on alcohol is also thiamine-deficient. Thiamine or Vitamin B1 deficiency attacks the cells of the heart causing heart diseases and heart failure. It can also affect the cells of the nervous system, causing problems in motor coordination and cognition.
Thiamine is a helper molecule not produced by the human body. It needs to be absorbed through diet. Most healthy people consume 0.4 to 2.0 milligrams of thiamine daily via meat, poultry, whole grain cereals, rice, nuts, dried beans, peas, and soybeans. Additionally, many U.S. foods are fortified with thiamine, including breads and cereals. However, when observed in affluent countries, thiamine deficiency is not related to poor nutritional intake, but to alcoholism.
Thiamine reduction resulting from alcoholism can interfere with a multitude of cellular functions, leading to serious brain disorders. Three main mechanisms contribute to thiamine deficiency: inadequate nutritional intake, decreased thiamine absorption from the gastrointestinal tract and subsequent reduced uptake into cells, and impaired thiamine utilization within the cells.
Nearly 80 percent people dependent on alcohol are deficient in thiamine, and some of them can develop serious disorders. Two such disorders found primarily in alcohol-dependent people are Wernicke’s Encephalopathy (WE) and KorsakoffPsychosis. Clinically, both these disorders together are known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome and can lead to dementia.
Alcohol Consumption and Thiamine Deficiency Work Synergistically
Dr. Philip J. Langlais, Professor of Neurosciences, California University, conducted an animal study to determine the relationship between thiamine deficiency and alcohol consumption. “We wanted to see if you took thiamine deficiency and combined it with chronic alcohol intake, would you then create a situation that would produce a more severe impairment of cognition and memory than you would with either thiamine deficiency alone, or exposure to chronic alcohol ingestion alone,” said Langlaiswhile describing the premise of the study.
The researcher and their team studied twelve-week-old male rats for acute neurological and long-term behavioral consequences. They compared the impact of chronic ethanol consumption and the three separate four-week-long episodes of dietary thiamine deficiency with ethanol consumption or thiamine deficiency alone for 32 weeks.
The prolonged and heavy consumption of ethanol has been associated with thiamine deficiency, and cognitive and memory impairments. Langlais undertook this study to test the hypothesis that ethanol consumption and thiamine deficiency act synergistically, producing more severe clinical neurological disturbances and cognitive and memory impairments than either thiamine deficiency or chronic ethanol ingestion alone.
Thiamine deficiency and alcohol consumption affect short-term memory
The results indicate that the interaction between chronic ethanol consumption and thiamine deficiency is domain specific. While learning and memory are dependent on a collaborative interaction between alcohol consumption and thiamine deficiency, alcohol consumption can be blamed for disruptions in short-term working memory and thiamine deficiency can be the reason behind neurological symptoms. Neither the presence of neurological symptoms nor blood ethanol concentrations appear to be a good predictor of learning and memory deficits.
In people dependent on alcohol, thiamine deficiency can be attributed to poor diet or to poor absorption. This is the reason, why most people dependent on alcohol are advised to take thiamine supplements. However, thiamine injections given to alcoholic-dependent people are usually so strong that they themselves can be problematic. Therefore, a steady diet of thiamine-rich or fortified foods is recommended. The gut and liver can absorb and process low doses of thiamine, while an abundance can lead to magnesium deficiency. In the case of supplementation, more is not always better.
Seeking help for alcoholism
Alcoholism can lead to various short- and long-term effects. It affects not only the person drinking alcohol, but can also hamper personal and professional relations. It hits financials and affects growth and development.
If you or your loved one is grappling with alcoholism, call the Florida Detox Helpline at 855-920-9869 to seek guidance about alcohol addiction treatment programs. Alternatively, you can chat online with our admission counsellor to know about the available alcohol addiction treatment modalities and choose the right one for you.