Homocysteine, Liver Function Derangement and Brain Atrophy in Alcoholics

Alcohol Alcohol. 2016 Nov;51(6):691-697. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agw031. Epub 2016 Jun 3.


Aims: Hyperhomocysteinemia may be involved in the development of brain atrophy in alcoholics. Its pathogenesis is multifactorial. In the present study, we analyse the relationship between homocysteine levels and brain atrophy, and the relative weight of co-existing factors such as liver function impairment, the amount of ethanol consumed, serum vitamin B12, B6, and folic acid levels on homocysteine levels and brain alterations in alcoholic patients.

Methods: We included 59 patients admitted to this hospital for major withdrawal symptoms and 24 controls. The mini-mental state examination test and a brain computed tomography (CT) scan were performed and several indices were calculated. Serum levels of homocysteine, folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 were determined. Liver function was assessed by Child-Pugh score. The daily consumption of ethanol in grams per day and years of addiction were recorded.

Results: A total of 83.6% and 80% of the patients showed cerebellar or frontal atrophy, respectively. Patients showed altered values of brain indices, higher levels of homocysteine and vitamin B12, but lower levels of folic acid, compared with controls. Homocysteine, B12 and liver function variables showed significant correlations with brain CT indices. Multivariate analyses disclosed that Pugh's score, albumin and bilirubin were independently related to cerebellar atrophy, frontal atrophy, cella index or ventricular index. Serum vitamin B12 was the only factor independently related to Evans index. It was also related to cella index, but after bilirubin. Homocysteine levels were independently related to ventricular index, but after bilirubin.

Conclusion: Vitamin B12 and homocysteine levels are higher among alcoholics. Liver function derangement, vitamin B12 and homocysteine are all independently related to brain atrophy, although not to cognitive alterations.

Short summary: Hyperhomocysteinemia has been described in alcoholics and may be related to brain atrophy, a reversible condition with an obscure pathogenesis. We studied 59 patients and found that liver function derangement, vitamin B12 and homocysteine levels are all independently related to brain atrophy assessed by computed tomography, although we found no association between these parameters and cognitive alterations.

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / blood
  • Alcoholism / complications
  • Alcoholism / diagnostic imaging
  • Alcoholism / pathology*
  • Atrophy / chemically induced
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Folic Acid / blood
  • Homocysteine / adverse effects
  • Homocysteine / blood*
  • Humans
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / pathology*
  • Liver / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Vitamin B 12 / blood
  • Vitamin B 6 / blood


  • Homocysteine
  • Vitamin B 6
  • Folic Acid
  • Vitamin B 12