Health and Family Proposals Alcohol and Vitamin B1 Part 2

About a practical proposal to put Vitamin B1 or thiamine into alcohol to help prevent Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.



Alcohol and Vitamin B1

Cynics accuse the industry of avoiding responsibility for alcoholism; adding thiamine to their product would constitute implicit admission that alcoholics drink it. To avoid such an implication, the industry apparently prefers to avoid adding thiamine. More charitably, the industry may be hesitant to promote vitamins in alcohol because doing so would violate the present laws governing additives.

Even so, the alcoholic beverage industry should take an active interest in the health of alcoholics. In Sweden, Dr. Leonard Goldberg has demonstrated that although alcoholics make up only 5% of the adult population, they consume fully half of all alcoholic beverages sold there. Many suspect that the industry sustains alcoholism, but few realize that the reverse is also true--alcoholism sustains the industry.

Doubtless some, unimpressed by the economic arguments, will ask, "Why bother to protect alcoholics from a rare disease?" In 1915 pellagra--a destroyer of thousands of lives--was traced to a dietary deficiency of niacin. For 25 years (during which 10,000 pellagra victims died) this discovery was ignored because the disease occurred mainly among the poor: Jewish and Italian immigrants, blacks, and "white trash." Today most states mandate niacin fortification of cereals and bread.

Alcoholics are a group with little influence who are victimized by a specific vitamin deficiency. Indifference to their needs is no excuse for not preventing Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

But even if the syndrome were eradicated, alcoholism would remain a menace to American life--vast, destructive, and lethal. Can we prevent alcoholism itself? By a pill or vaccination, no. But we can help to prevent it by education and by alleviating the stresses that lead to alcoholism.

Why is alcohol heavily taxed? Presumably because our society considers it a social evil that should be discouraged. Each year the federal government collects $5.5 billion in alcohol taxes--paid, of course, by the public. Each year it disburses about $140 million for alcoholism treatment and prevention programs--less than 3% of what it takes in. Clearly the federal government is more interested in alcohol as a source of revenue than as a cause of disease, poverty, and death.

Alcoholism costs the U.S. $44 billion each year in lost income. If taxes on alcohol are to be justified, they should be used to defray the damage drinking does. Programs for the prevention of alcoholism should have primary claim on alcohol-tax dollars.

An extravagant proposal? Perhaps, but alcoholism, even apart from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is an extravagantly costly disease. Just ask Mrs. Miller's family.

Brandon Centerwall

N. Hollywood, Calif.

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