The general cause of this disease is prolonged and heavy consumption of alcohol accompanied by a nutritional deficiency. There is some debate over whether the main cause is the direct toxic effect of alcohol itself or whether the disease is a result alcoholism-related malnutrition.
Frequently alcoholics have disrupted social links in their lives and have an irregular lifestyle. This may cause an alcoholic to change his eating habits including more missed meals and a poor dietary balance. Alcoholism may also result in loss of appetite, alcoholic gastritis, and vomiting, which decrease food intake. Alcohol abuse damages the lining of the gastrointestinal system and reduces absorption of nutrients that are taken in. The combination of all of them may result in a nutritional deficiency that is linked to the development of alcoholic polyneuropathy.
There is evidence that providing individuals with adequate vitamins improves symptoms despite continued alcohol intake, indicating that vitamin deficiency may be a major factor in the development and progression of alcoholic polyneuropathy. In experimental models of alcoholic polyneuropathy utilizing rats and monkeys has not resulted in convincing evidence that proper nutritional intake along with alcohol results in polyneuropathy.
In addition, the consumption of alcohol may lead to the build up of certain toxins in the body. For example, in the process of breaking down alcohol, the body produces acetaldehyde, which can accumulate to toxic levels in alcoholics. This suggests that there is a possibility ethanol (or its metabolites) may cause alcoholic polyneuropathy. There is evidence that polyneuropathy is also prevalent in well nourished alcoholics, supporting the idea that there is a direct toxic effect of alcohol.
Many of the studies conducted that observe alcoholic polyneuropathy in patients are often criticized for their criteria used to assess nutritional deficiency in the subjects because they may not have completely ruled out the possibility of a nutritional deficiency in the genesis of the polyneuropathy. Many researchers favor the nutritional origin of this disease, but the possibility of alcohol having a toxic effect on the peripheral nerves has not been completely ruled out.
Read more about this topic: Alcoholic Polyneuropathy
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