Alcohol Consumption and Vitamin B1 Deficiency

Vitamin B1(thiamine, often found in B complex vitamin supplements) is an essentiel nutrient required for proper brain functioning. Thiamine deficiency is associated with many acute brain diseases and conditions such as Wernicke’s Encephalopathy, Korsakoff’s Psychosis, and cerebellar degeneration – all three as serious as they sound! In developed countries where people generally have good nutrition thiamine deficiency is relatively rare. Vitamin B1 deficiency can present, however, with higher than average alcohol consumption.

How Does Alcohol Consumption affect Vitamin B1 Absorption?

Many might find the threshold to be an “above average” drinker surprisingly low. Excessive alcohol consumption is defined by the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) as 15 standard drinks per week for men and 8 drinks per week for women. Studies find about 5% of Americans are regular heavy drinkers and 17% binge drink. (5)

Given these statistics between 5% and 17% of Americans are at high risk for thiamine / vitamin B1 deficiency at some point in their lives. The average person “requires a minimum of 0.33mg of thiamine for each 1,000Kcal of energy they consume, while alcoholics tend to consume less than 0.29mg/1000kcal. (1)

At the extreme research has shown that as many as 35% of problematic heavy drinkers (those who drank heavily enough to be admitted to hospital as a consequence of their drinking) “may suffer from continual thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency.” (2)

A cause for this possibly epidemic level of thiamin deficiency in habitual heavy drinkers is alchohol interfering with thiamine absorption in the gastrointestinal tract. Animal research going back over thirty years finds that “acute alcohol exposure interferes with the absorption of thiamine from the gastrointestinal tract at low but not high levels.” (3) Since thiamine in habitual drinkers is absorbed more effectively when it is present in high concentrations, this suggests that vitamin B1 supplementation may be even more effective if it is taken by injection as opposed to oral administration, although there is no definitive evidence on this point.

Health Issues With Thiamine Deficiency

Cerebellar degeneration manifests itself in the loss of sensory and cognitive abilities as well as acute deficits in muscle coordination. This condition has severe consequences for sufferers and, as it’s name suggests, it is degenerative becoming more severe if it is left untreated. Worse still, cerebellar degeneration does not generally manifest itself until after a decade into the habit and will lead to conditions such as “alcohol induced persisting dementia”. (4)

The consequences of acute thiamine deficiency are treated with, not surprisingly, thiamine supplementation. A word of caution, there is debate on the amount of thiamine which should be administered in treatment and many factors will come into play not the least of which is the pre-existing health of the individual. Also some individuals may not be suited to taking a multi vitamin complex injection (such as B-100 complex) due to other extenuating health issues such as weakened liver functioning which may be aggravated by concentrated doses of nicotinamide (vitamin B3 also present in B-100 complex) and must take vitamin B1 by itself. These are all issue which must be discussed with your doctor who you should consult with on any matter related to the taking of supplements and medicines such B-100 complex.

The research is clear –  ignoring a vitamin B deficiency brought on my excessive alcohol consumption can have serious consequences. In most instances deficiency can be treated with supplementation. The best method of vitamin B supplementation depends on both the severity of the deficiency and any of the other extenuating factors discussed. Most individuals will be fine with a sublingual or oral vitamin B supplement, but for those with chronic degeneration and those not wanting to leave anything to chance, the high impact of IM or Sub Q administration of a preparation such as that found in B-100 complex (in consultation with a health professional such as ones’s GP) may be a viable option.

For a complete explication of the biochemical mechanisms by which Vitamin B1 operates (of the type found in B-100 complex) in respect of preventing thiamine deficiency we suggest the Mayo Clinic Drug and Supplements web page on Thiamine Vitamin B1.


(1) Woodpile and Nobil 1972 quoting an excerpt of the work of Peter R. Martin M.D.

(2) Leery and Baker 1968 as referenced by Peter R. Martin M.D.

(3) Hoyumpa 1980 as referenced in the work of Peter R. Martin M.D.

(4) Thiamine Administration in Alcohol-Dependent Patients

(5) Alcohol and Public Health – Center for Disease Control


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