Korsakoff Amnesic Syndrome, also known indelicately as “wet brain,” is a memory disorder resulting from a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1). It may result from alcohol abuse, malnutrition, prolonged vomiting, eating disorders, or the effects of chemotherapy. The main features of Korsakoff's amnesic syndrome are the impairments in acquiring new information or establishing new memories (antegrade or anterograde amnesia) and in retrieving previous memories (retrograde amnesia).
Symptoms include the previously mentioned anterograde and retrograde amnesia, confabulation (invented memories which are then taken as true due to gaps in memory, sometimes associated with blackouts), meager content in conversation, lack of insight, and apathy. The effects can be profound.
A few experts now say that brain damage related to thiamine deficiency may be at least somewhat reversible, but most see little hope for complete recovery. The syndrome is best avoided by eating properly and limiting alcohol use, but in the interest of minimizing harm to an alcoholic's brain when abstinence is unlikely, thiamine supplements can be taken to avoid this catastrophic, progressive, and largely irreversible condition. Thiamine (vitamin B1) is available at drug stores and pharmacies such as Walgreen's, Rite-Aid and Wal-Mart. Thiamine is water-soluble and thus less likely to reach toxic levels than non-water soluble vitamins. Consult a pharmacist or read the package label for dosage.
Foods that contain significant quantities of thiamine include breads and cereals marked as "enriched," pork, oysters, green peas, and lima beans are also good sources. Most other foods contain only very small amounts of thiamin.
For more information, see the National Institutes of Health Fact Sheet and The Role of Thiamine Deficiency in Alcoholic Brain Disease.
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