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Alcoholics "Drying Out" May Risk Brain Damage, Say British Researchers


November-December 1997

Alcoholics who are "drying out" may risk incurring brain damage, according to a study conducted by Adrian Bonner and Colin Martin of the Addictive Behaviour Centre at Roehampton Institute, London. Elevated levels of kyurenines were found during alcohol withdrawal. This chemical damages nerve cells in the hippocampus, resulting in the degeneration of the brain (Nigel Hawkes, "Alcoholics who dry out risk brain damage," The Times (UK), September 1, 1997).

The study of 150 alcoholic men living in Salvation Army hostels found the presence of chemicals called kyurenines, which can kill brain cells, peaks on the fourth day of detoxification. The peak coincides with a loss of memory, suggesting that the chemicals could be responsible for memory loss among long term alcoholics. Kyurenines are related to the endogenous mood regulating chemical serotonin. Both chemicals are produced by the processing of an amino acid known as tryptophan. All of the alcoholics studied were clinically depressed which is characteristic of low serotonin levels, according to the researchers.

Dr. Bonner said, "By altering the carbohydrates and proteins in the diet, or by using drugs to target the enzymes in the liver that break down tryptophan, we might be able to reduce the brain damage. That could have enormous implications for the treatment and rehabilitation of alcoholics."

Dr. Adrian Bonner - (011) (44) (181) 392-3563, E-mail: