Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is an essential nutrient. It plays an important role in digesting energy from foods we eat and affects the health of the brain, heart, and nervous system.
Thiamine must be sourced from the diet and possibly supplementation to avoid the perils of deficiency. When the body is kept well-supplied with this essential nutrient, functions are improved, self-repairs are addressed quickly, and energy levels are kept optimal.
Thiamine Functions in the Body
Thiamine is called vitamin B1 because it is the first in the complex of B vitamins to be properly identified and categorized. Like the other B vitamins, thiamine is water soluble which means it is not stored in fat cells like other nutrients and will be washed out of the body fairly quickly. This is another reason thiamine is essential in the diet.
Thiamine plays a role in converting glucose derived from carbs in the diet into the energy needed to fuel the brain and body. This energy is called ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). It also supports the enzymatic processes that break down fats and proteins in food. Thiamine supports the creation of DNA and RNA which holds the vital instructions for a healthy life. Additionally, these make up a nerve cell which allows their neural transmissions to function properly.
When the human body is facing extreme exertion or physical strain it requires much more thiamine to cope with demands. Examples of people facing an increased need for thiamine include growing teenagers, mothers who are pregnant or breastfeeding, fitness enthusiasts, athletes, as well as those fighting disease.
Health Benefits of Thiamine
The conversion of glucose into ATP allows the brain and body to function optimally. The brain itself uses 20% of the energy generated in the body, without which it would be unable to regulate proper repair work and proper function. Thiamine supports this important energy production and avoids the complications of deficiencies.1
Protects Nerve Cells
When the brain is fully-powered, it is less susceptible to fatigue, stress, and breakdowns leading to anxiety. Stress and fatigue are common issues in the modern era. But a healthy supply of vitamin B1 energizes the mind and improves neurotransmissions.
Studies have found that thiamine is an important part of the insulation tips that protect and direct nerve transmissions, called myelin. Without this important insulation, the nervous system is at risk of more complicated conditions like Multiple Sclerosis.2
Improves Sleep Quality
Along with other B vitamins, thiamine plays an important role in getting enough sleep at night. Those who are having trouble sleeping are recommended by experts to double up on these vitamins. This increase the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin that enhance sleep cycles.3
Reduces Symptoms of Stress
Workplace stress can come from environmental factors and many others too. Studies suggest that the supplementation of a B-complex multivitamin can be an effective remedy. Better nutrition could be an important role in increased productivity and workplace performance.4
May Help Reduce Memory Loss
As stated previously, thiamine and the B-vitamins play a role in maintaining good brain health and energy levels. Thiamine supplementation can help to prevent memory deficiencies and malfunctions throughout the brain pathways by improving the presence of myelin sheaths on nerves.5
The most common cause of thiamine deficiency comes from conditions that reduce thiamine absorption or other high demands.
For example, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a condition characterized by thiamine deficiency. This is common in alcoholics and is the most common reason for thiamine deficiency in America. High amounts of alcohol consumption can damage the digestive tract and its functions. This results in reduced thiamine absorbed in the intestines. Furthermore, a loss of appetite is common with heavy drinking and this also diminishes thiamine intake.
Thiamine Deficiency Symptoms and Dangers
The collective symptoms and conditions of thiamine deficiency are referred to as beriberi. The most notable of these include:
- Burning in the feet
- Cardiovascular effects, such as an enlarged heart
- Decrease in short-term memory
- Fatigue and low energy
- Rapid weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Mental changes
- Nerve damage
- Nerve inflammation (neuritis)
- Ongoing digestive problems, such as diarrhea
- Poor appetite
If the body’s supplies of thiamine begin to run low, the brain, heart, and organs are the first to be affected. Some of the highest concentrations of thiamine can be found in the brain, kidneys, bones, heart, and liver.
In the brain, the thalamus and cerebellum are most affected by nerve degeneration. The thalamus presides over awareness and the cerebellum is vital to cognitive function. Both of these functions can be greatly diminished.
In the heart, thiamine deficiency reduces the flow of blood placing greater strain on cardiac muscles which can lead to swelling. A few other conditions that can increase the risk of thiamine deficiency include:6
- Alcohol dependence
- Bariatric surgery
- High-dose diuretic use
- Old age
Foods High in Thiamine
Including many thiamine-rich foods in the diet is the best way to avoid the conditions that come from deficiency. Here are ten top foods along with their DV (daily value) to stay well-supplied with vitamin B1:7
- Pork chops, 96%
- Fish (salmon), 48%
- Flax seeds, 39%
- Navy beans, 36%
- Green peas, 36%
- Firm tofu, 33%
- Brown rice, 30%
- Acorn squash, 19%
- Asparagus, 24%
- Mussels, 21%
Risks and Precautions for Thiamine Supplementation
Thiamine is considered likely safe when taken in supplement form. Thiamine shots are also available for certain conditions. If you feel you are suffering any symptoms of thiamine deficiency, see a licensed physician who can determine the conditions and the best treatment.
Thiamine supplementation has resulted in certain allergic reactions. The most common reactions are related to skin conditions.
Thiamine may not be readily absorbed into the body under certain conditions. When dealing with certain cases like alcoholism a more advanced approach may be needed to overcome resistance.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are often advised to take thiamine supplements. 1.4 mg daily is the most commonly recommended amount, but it is advisable to consult your doctor for a more accurate recommendation.8
Final Notes on Thiamine Supplementation
Thiamine is an essential nutrient the body requires to maintain optimal performance. Keeping a healthy diet and lifestyle supports and enhances vital functions. From better sleep and cognitive performance to the avoidance of serious conditions, make sure you are getting a healthy helping of thiamine-rich foods in your diet.
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