Vitamin Deficiency and Alcohol Abuse


Q: Hello, I'm a relatively healthy 28yr old male. I have the ability to goto the gym, do hours of cardio, lift upto and more than 200lbs with my feet, never any problem lifting weights with my arms and such. I am currently outside of my home country and I'm paying very high rates for doctors, so I'm looking for ideas and maybe things to try to help cancel out certain concerns to help avoid major doctors fees. I will be paying to further find out what my problem is, but I thought I'd post to see if I could try to further investigation on my own. I've been a very hard binge drinker since the age of about 18yrs old. It's not every day, but when it happens every few days, it happens extremely hard. I've been consistent for about 10yrs. I had an episode when I was about 21yrs old where it felt like half my body went numb, my right side I believe. No pain, I was able to walk normal, it just felt like it was asleep. The only thing that was truly effected was my finger tips. I stopped drinking until the symptoms went away, took a few weeks maybe, and everything went away except my finger tips. I can feel pain if they're hurt, I can play guitar and keep a decent song up, but the tips have felt "asleep" since then. I started drinking again when the numbness in the body went away but not the fingers. I gave it a few weeks and started again. I didn't drink daily, but when it would happen it would be out of control binge drinking (again). My walking started getting affected a few years later, almost as if my legs would just flop forward and backwards, tripping on small curbs here and there, but only after maybe 1-3hrs of standing/walking. This would come and go, there would be times I could run without incident, but then sometimes it would be worse where I would have to sit and stretch my legs for half an hour then start again and they would be fine. When I would do my binge drinking it would almost get to a point where I would not be able to walk, because of the weakness, and when I would get up in the morning it would be fine. Sometimes though, rarely, I'd be completely fine for walking while on the drink. Recently I went through some personal turmoil and was drinking more than I ever had in my life. I woke up one morning and my right eye was a little odd, felt almost bruised, almost like i was staring at a screen for too long, i kept drinking constantly for about 2 weeks more, and my vision in my right eye started to get blurry. I went to a doctor, told him the problems with the legs, the eyes, the weakness, and he said all signs pointed to MS, I did my research too and mentally prepared myself for this. He did basic strength tests (which I know don't diagnose MS) and sat there for a moment almost puzzled. There's a Vitamin B deficiency that has VERY similar symptoms to MS which he told me about. I told him about my alcohol problem, and then he asked me to start taking thiamine and other related vitamins. I have been clean for a week now, taking my vitamins, and there will be days that I can walk fine, then others that are still weak after an hour or so of walking, my eye has stop hurting, but is still blurry at points. Combined with the alcohol abuse, I have been under enormous stress that I have never felt before that can apparently have similar symptoms. He said this might also be the issue at hand. I will be getting an MRI for the MS test, but I'm curious if anyone knows of ways that I might be able to rule out any other problems that this might be because the cost is so much. Unfortunately I cannot goto the doctor as much as I require, and I'm wondering if this is infact a problem that my alcohol abuse/stress has caused, how long will it take with the proper nutrition to notice a semi-permanent effect/turn-a-round. At one point, I had stopped for 3 months, and I had noticed a difference in my walking, and fingers. The vision thing is new and has only been here for about 2-3 weeks. There has never ever been anything remotely close to pain at all. Just numbness, when I goto the gym or get involved with anything that requires strength (other than walking or running), I am good with it and can spend hours in an environment like that. It's just the walking and running that get me. Diabetes also runs in my family, but I have been tested within the last 2yrs and nothing was there. I'm wondering if anyone else out there has had a similar problem, has heard of this and might offer any tips aside from the obvious alcohol problem which I am working towards correcting. Is there a certain length of time that a MS attack can last, if it's a deficiency issue, how long does it take to correct the deficiency, ect... Thank you for your time


A:   Thank you for the details of your health.
If I have summarized correctly, you are an otherwise healthy male with long standing history of alcohol abuse and recently worsening neurological symptoms in unrelated parts of the body(fingers, legs, eyes).
I concur with the doctor you have seen. The current symptoms point to two possibilities: Nutritional deficiency from alcohol abuse or Multiple Sclerosis.
An MRI is an appropriate test for MS.
Alcohol prevents the absorption of essential vitamins causing a nutritional deficit within the body.  Initially no effects are felt but since these vitamins are needed by every cell in the body, your regular stores eventually become depleted and neurological symptoms such as yours begin to appear. A severe form of alcohol induced nutritional deficiency is known as korsakoff's syndrome.
The treatment is a well balanced healthy diet supplemented with daily thiamine and B vitamins. In severe cases, these have to be administered by injection. Assuming your are able to stop the alcohol consumption, I would expect your nutritional state to return to normal in 3 months. In the interim, it is appropriate to have the MRI performed.

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