Dementia: Perspectives on Korsakoff’s Syndrome and Vitamin B1 Deficiency Based on Scientific Sources

Dr Mehmet Yildiz

How to reduce health risks for alcohol-related brain damage based on a review of scientific literature

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Please note that there is no medical advice in this article. It is for information purposes reflecting the reviews from the medical literature. Korsakoff’s Syndrome is widely documented in reliable sources monitored by the governments.

Recently, I wrote an article about reducing risk factors for dementia on NewsBreak, particularly Alzheimer’s disease which I have been studying for over two decades. A subscriber mentioned that one of her family members was diagnosed with Korsakoff syndrome and wanted to learn more about this neurological condition. With the inspiration gained from the reader, I decided to provide high-level perspectives on this neurodegenerative disease as an extension to my article about dementia.

Korsakoff’s syndrome is a type of dementia. The syndrome is associated with the studies of Sergei Sergeyevich Korsakoff, a neuropsychiatrist. Professor Korsakoff intensely studied alcoholic psychosis. This distinguished professor contributed to neurology and psychiatry with groundbreaking research, but unfortunately, he died at the age of 46 from heart failure in 1900. This syndrome is also known as alcohol-related brain damage, as the syndrome is largely observed in long-term and excessive alcohol users.

As a postdoctoral researcher in cognitive science, mental health studies are of particular interest to me. One of my reviews were related to the side effects of alcohol on the brain and our cognitive systems. As I mentioned in this article, excessive alcohol has a detrimental effect on the brain. The significant impact is memory impairment.

In Korsakoff’s syndrome, overuse of alcohol causes Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency. This vitamin is critical for creating memories in the brain. Even though it sounds like a simple vitamin, thiamine is an essential nutrient. This vitamin is crucial for the brain because it synthesizes neurotransmitters, maintains membrane potential, and enables myelination. Unfortunately, this syndrome may remain underdiagnosed like Alzheimer’s or other dementia types.

Unfortunately, alcohol can impair absorption of Vitamin B1 from the small intestine, affecting its transportation to the brain and diminishing its utilization. Thiamine is an agent to produce energy for brain cells from sugar.

When I learned various side effects of alcohol in the brain during my studies, I decided to stop consuming alcohol entirely as it did not do any good for my health. I learned that alcohol creates toxic effects on brain cells. Besides, intoxication and withdrawal effects of alcohol can create biological stress in the brain affecting our mental health.

As I mentioned in this article on NewsBreak, alcohol made me very sad and agitated. In later years I found out that I was carbs-intolerant, so excessive sugar in alcohol was causing havoc in my health, making me insulin resistant.

As mentioned in my previous articles on NewsBreak, insulin resistance was the primary cause of many of my ailments in my youth. Therefore, insulin resistance is a topic close to my heart. As Dr Jason Fung nailed and communicated in medical communities, insulin resistance has been the primary factor for the obesity epidemic.

Even though alcohol misuse is considered the main culprit, studies also show that Korsakoff’s syndrome can be caused by AIDS, some cancers, chronic infections, anorexia, poor nutrition, and even weight-loss surgery. Some scientists also hypothesize that other conditions may also play a role in this syndrome.

Korsakoff syndrome usually happens before “Wernicke encephalopathy”. This term means acute brain reaction to severe lack of Vitamin B1. This condition is considered a medical emergency because patients experience terrible mental confusion, memory loss, and physical coordination. Due to thiamine deficiency, biochemicals in the brain cannot carry critical signals through brain cells. Thus, these cells cannot store, form, and retrieve memories.

In addition to involuntary eye movements and double vision, one of the common symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome is fabricating information and not remembering information that the brain process. People might think that these patients are lying. But their memories fail, so they confabulate. As a result, they cannot continue meaningful conversations.

Diagnosis of Korsakoff syndrome is complex as there are no available blood works or neuro-imaging tests. Thus, the diagnosis is entirely based on the judgments of well-trained medical professionals. In addition, diagnosis can be challenging because of symptoms of other neurodegenerative diseases. However, professionals always check the medical history of patients, particularly their alcohol consumption and other factors affecting Vitamin B1 deficiency.

Treatment usually includes immediate Vitamin B1 supplementation such as high dose injection (intravenous or intramuscular) in severe cases. In addition, they use other vitamins such as magnesium to reduce symptoms.

As a long-term treatment, the healthcare givers help the patients to refrain from alcohol use and help them to have a nutrient-dense diet. Finally, if the cause of the syndrome is not alcohol, practitioners address other underlying factors caused by conditions such as cancer, AIDS, chronic infections, and anorexia.

To conclude, even though there are several causes of Korsakoff syndrome, since excessive and long-term use of alcohol is a known risk factor, it can be a wise choice to consume alcohol in moderation like all fun things in life.

I hope this brief overview and information can create awareness in understanding Korsakoff syndrome and take necessary measures to prevent and treat it with the help of qualified healthcare professionals.

Thank you for reading my perspectives. I wish you a healthy and joyful life.

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I write about important and valuable life lessons. My goal is to delight my readers. My content aims to inform and engage my readers. I'm a technologist, cognitive scientist, and postdoctoral researcher, with four decades of experience.

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