By Jack Becker
A few years ago, a Bill of Health post titled Jelly Beans, Booze, and B-Vitamins proposed fortifying cheap wines, hard liquors, and malt liquors with thiamine (vitamin B1).
The post suggested this as a public health measure to prevent Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) in the homeless alcoholic population. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a debilitating neurological disorder caused by thiamine deficiency. The disorder is significantly more prevalent in those with chronic alcoholism (up to 80% of whom become thiamine deficient), and it’s preventable by boosting thiamine consumption. For this reason, advocates started promoting the idea of fortifying cheap alcohol with thiamine decades ago.
Jelly Beans, Booze, and B-Vitamins explains that this initiative is complicated by the fortification policy put forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), under which the agency does “not consider it appropriate to add vitamins and minerals to alcoholic beverages.” (While FDA and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau [TTB] share jurisdiction over alcoholic beverages, TTB has followed FDA’s public health expertise in the past and would likely do so in this situation as well.) FDA similarly discourages companies from fortifying snack foods to avoid misleading consumers about their health value.
While the thiamine-in-alcohol proposal hasn’t gotten far enough to warrant official consideration, there’s a new fortified alcohol product making waves in the market. And while the stakes aren’t quite as high, it’s still a hard issue — a hard seltzer issue.