Cause of Alcoholic Polyneuropathy

Man drinking bottle of cider

Alcoholic Polyneuropathy is a form of nerve damage directly linked to excessive alcohol consumption. The term polyneuropathy itself refers to a generalized degradation of nerve health that typically proceeds in a fairly fluid manner, affecting many peripheral nerves. The peripheral nerves are those that carry feeling from the appendages (limbs) through the spinal cord and to the brain. With polyneuropathy the distal nerves, or the nerves furthest from the torso, are often most severely affected. This means, essentially, that excessive consumption of alcohol may lead to pain or tingling in the fingers, toes, hands, or feet, progressing over time to similar symptoms in the arms and legs.

We’ve all heard for years that heavy alcohol consumption is likely to cause significant damage to our bodies. As the liver breaks down the alcohol, it suffers damage. As the kidneys strain to filter out the remnants of the alcohol from our blood, the kidneys experience damage. But how in the world does alcohol consumption lead to nerve damage?

Early investigations into alcoholic polyneuropathy suggested that the malnutrition associated with alcoholism may be a key factor. Excessive alcohol consumption inhibits the body’s ability to process foods containing thiamine (B1) and other B vitamins, which are crucial for nerve health. However, more recent research suggests that B complex deficiency may only be partly to blame for alcoholic polyneuropathy. Ethanol, the substance that is commonly referred to simply as alcohol, has been shown to literally poison the peripheral nerves. The precise manner in which ethanol poisons the nerves is not yet known, but research continues.

Alcoholic Polyneuropathy is irreversible, so the best way to deal with it is prevention. Consume alcohol in moderation. Many organizations exist to help people who have problems controlling their drinking, the most well known of which is Alcoholics Anonymous. A Google search can help you find not-for-profit organizations in your area. If you are experiencing symptoms of alcoholic polyneuropathy, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor may be able to help you treat symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening.


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