Something as simple as thiamin (vitamin B1) may help, or hinder, your brain's capacity to function and perhaps even survive. Alcoholics, anorexics and senior citizens may be especially vulnerable, according to recent studies of two neurological disorders called Wernicke's encephalopathy (WE) and Korsakoff's Syndrome (KS). The two studies, published in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, jointly found that mammillary bodies in the brain may shrink as cognition and memory decrease.
"These findings are significant because they point toward the importance of nutritional factors in the condition of the brain," said Edith V. Sullivan, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Stanford University School of Medicine and lead author of one of the studies. "Nutrition, ultimately, affects the very function or cognitive well-being of the brain." Sullivan based her study, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, on in vivo or living patients. WE is a potentially fatal disorder caused by thiamin deficiency. WE usually occurs in people who have been drinking heavily and not eating, but can also occur after persistent vomiting or during hunger strikes. Recent studies, said Sullivan, have shown that young women suffering from anorexia nervosa may also develop WE due to severe nutritional deficiencies. Of increasing concern is the potentially large number of senior citizens who may be apathetic about the quality of their diet, may not be eating enough, or may forget to eat altogether. Yet clearly heavy drinkers are those known to be most affected by WE.
"Brain damage as a result of alcohol consumption is probably the second
most common cause of dementia in the United States, behind Alzheimer's
Disease," said Dr. Peter R. Martin of the Vanderbilt University School of
Medicine. Heavy drinkers often eat improperly and, furthermore, alcohol
impedes the digestive tract's normal absorption of those few nutrients that
Contact: Clive Harper, M.D., FRCPA
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research