Somebody’s convinced us that wine is a health drink. Not only does this increase your risk of pancreatitis, but it fires off inflammatory chemicals in your body galore! Think wrinkles, pain and grey hair. More than that, alcohol steals thiamine and that means you’ll forget stuff more often and have a hard time finding that correct word you’re looking for. Lose your mind basically. Remember that, when sipping that red wine tonight, or bellying up to the bar with the boys. It puts you on the fast track to depleting thiamine. Which leads me to my next thought, bananas.
Have you ever heard the term banana bag? It’s not referring to a bag of bananas. It’s referring to a yellow-colored IV (intravenous) bag filled with thiamine and other nutrients. The “banana bag” is given via injection to restore vitamins like thiamine and other nutrients in your body after chronic alcohol use or abuse. It’s also used for people who are chronically ill, or severely deficient in nutrients, perhaps from dehydration, food poisoning or chronic infections. The IV nutrient bag is also sometimes referred to as a “Myers’ Cocktail.”
Thiamine or vitamin B1 functions in hundreds of biochemical reactions. Your brain cells die without it. We must get thiamine every day from our foods, but unfortunately most foods have minute amounts unless you like organ meats and molasses. Thiamine deficiency causes many problems with the mouth. You may have burning mouth syndrome, or swelling of the tongue (glossitis). You may feel a vibration sensation in your toes or legs. It can come and go. This slow deterioration may sneak up on you, causing your doctor to misdiagnose you with one disease after another (of course each disease gets it’s own handy-dandy drug). Such “sneaky” symptoms that creep up include peripheral or autonomic neuropathies, visual difficulties especially with focus, balance problems or feeling tipsy when you haven’t had a drink. This could cause you to walk into walls, no joke. Some confuse these gait disturbances and neuropathies as a sign of normal aging, but it’s not. It could very well be your brain screaming, “Help! I’m running on empty. I need some thiamine over here!”
Thiamine helps to reverse alcohol toxicity in your brain and the liver. In a 2013 animal study, conducted in India, rodents were intoxicated with alcohol for 90 days. That’s all it took to damage their brain and liver. Then, thiamine was administered for 30 days. You can guess what happened. The biomarkers (for brain inflammation, liver enzymes and neurotransmitters) all remarkably improved. The thiamine-treated group showed faster healing and regeneration, as compared to the rodents that were just left to “dry out” on their own. So they proved you can reverse alcohol damage with a natural B vitamin.
Does the same apply to humans? While I think thiamine is useful to a person who drinks (even socially), the best way to repair damage is to stop drinking. It beats a banana bag, which often cost about $100 a pop. If you have time for an eye-popping read, please snag a copy of my ebook, “Understanding Pancreatitis & Pancreatic Cancer” where I discuss natural herbs and pain-relieving supplements for these conditions, often caused by alcohol.
Alcohol isn’t the only drink that can mess with your body, it’s coffee too. And smoking. And medications like antibiotics, acid blockers, theophylline, tamoxifen, antacids, hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) and digoxin. These drugs deplete thiamine and induce symptoms. To see if your medication depletes thiamine, refer to your copy of Drug Muggers, read Chapter 21. Other ways to become thiamine deficient include having an eating disorder and lap-band or other obesity surgery. But by a mile, alcohol is the biggest offender and the one you have control over.
There’s another interesting connection to people with thyroid disease, specifically auto-immune thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis). There were 3 cases of people with Hashimoto’s that were suffering with fatigue, and they were found to be thiamine deficient. They were given very high doses of thiamine (600 mg daily for 3 months, or 100 mg/ml given intravenously every four days.) Like I said, high doses! Anyway, upon re-evaluation their thiamine levels went up and their fatigue improved significantly. Can we draw this across the board for all Hashi sufferers? No, I don’t think 3 cases is enough to make sweeping statements, but please keep this in the back of your mind. The reason it helped is because these patients had trouble with their transporters… meaning they had trouble getting the thiamine out of their blood and INTO their cells. Thiamine transport issues are not always the issue with people.
(Here is the citation for the case studies I just referred to: J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Mar;20(3):208-11. doi: 10.1089/acm.2012.0612. Epub 2013 Sep 25.)
To get tested for thiamine deficiency, there are different ways. You can get a blood thiamine test, but it’s not always accurate but it’s okay to screen. There is another test called “erythrocyte transketolase” which requires blood. Erythrocyte is the big word for red blood cell, and transketolase is the name of an enzyme that is dependent on thiamine (and magnesium). Many of you have found Functional Medicine practitioners to test you using a “CardioION” blood test. On this particular test, you will see a biomarker called “a-keto β-Methylvalerate” and if that is elevated, then you are low on thiamine. Talk to your doctor to see what is right for you. Thiamine is sold over the counter in various doses. I couldn’t possibly know what dose is right for you because I don’t know what genetic snps you have, nor do I know your liver and kidney function or your history, or your allergies. My personal belief is to always start low, and go slow. So if it were me, I would use very low doses and gauge response to my symptoms. And of course, I would try to avoid thiamine drug muggers and beverages that deplete my levels. That’s just me.
Leave your comments below, and let’s help each other.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.