Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) is a condition that happens when someone is deficient in vitamin B1 (thiamin). Thiamin is critical for the functioning of brain cells because it helps them to produce energy. WKS is a combination of two different conditions: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome.
The condition is most common in people with severe malnutrition associated with alcoholism, AIDS and gastrointestinal disorders.
Why Is It Also Called Wet Brain?
WKS is called “wet brain syndrome” because the condition is common in people who abuse alcohol.
Alcoholics are deficient in thiamin for a couple of different reasons. The first is that they tend to have poor diets without much nutritional value. They may favor easy, cheap and fatty meals that are low in thiamin and other B vitamins.
The second reason is that even if alcoholics have a well-rounded diet, alcohol changes the functioning of cells in the intestines. Intestinal cells have proteins on their surface whose job it is to absorb thiamin. Alcohol causes cells of the gut to make less of this protein. So even if they eat a diet high in thiamin, it may not absorb properly, leading to WKS.
Since WKS is two different conditions that happen together, it is helpful to understand each separately.