The Role of Thiamine in Supporting Everyday Functions and Optimal Health

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vitamin b1 and dietary fiber

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  • Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, is an essential nutrient because it is responsible for producing the energy you use throughout the day
  • One study has shown that diabetics may benefit from thiamine by helping improve endothelial function and circulation of endothelial progenitor cells
  • If thiamine deficiency affects your cardiovascular system, you may experience chest pain, wide pulse pressure, heart failure, shock and tachycardia

The human body requires 13 different vitamins to thrive and function properly. One of the most important groups of vitamins that help support this purpose are B vitamins, which consists of eight members: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12.1

B vitamins are important because they help with cognitive function, nervous system and brain health, as well as red blood cell formation. However, one B vitamin, thiamine (B1), arguably plays the biggest role in your everyday lives.2

According to the Mayo Clinic, thiamine supports important tasks such as the flow of electrolytes in and out of the nerve and muscle cells, as well as metabolizing the carbohydrates and lipids found in food.3 Essentially, it helps convert the food you eat into energy, with special attention on the brain and nervous system.4 It exists in different forms depending on the function:

  • Thiamine hydrochloride — The salt structure of thiamine.5
  • Thiamine pyrophosphate — The biologically active form metabolized by your body.6
  • Thiamine mononitrate — This is the type generally used in supplements.7

Healthy Sources of Thiamine Are Abundant and Diverse

The great thing about thiamine is that it can be found in a variety of foods, so you can surely get the vitamin in one way or another even if you're a picky eater. Nutritious sources include grass fed meats, raw milk, nuts, fruits and vegetables. You may refer to the extensive chart below for more information:8,9,10,11

  • Asparagus (cooked)
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Green peas
  • Navy, black, pinto, lima and kidney beans
  • Flaxseeds
  • Macadamia and pistachio nuts

While beans are abundant in thiamine, they also contain lectins, which are sugar-binding proteins that can contribute to leaky gut syndrome by binding to receptor sites in your intestinal mucosal cells. As a result, the nutrients in your meals are not absorbed efficiently. To protect yourself from lectins, I strongly recommend following this procedure:

  1. Soak the beans in water for at least 12 hours before cooking. Adding baking soda to the water will boost the removal of lectins even further.
  2. Discard the water used for soaking and rinse the beans thoroughly.
  3. Cook the beans for at least 15 minutes on high heat because a very low setting can actually increase the toxicity levels up to five times or more.

To maximize the bioavailability of thiamine, do not consume raw fish and shellfish dishes because they contain chemicals that can destroy the vitamin. However, cooked seafood poses no threat to the nutrient. Furthermore, tea and coffee should be taken moderately because their tannins can react to thiamine, making it hard for your body to absorb.12

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8 Studies Indicate That Thiamine May Help Treat Certain Diseases and Deficiencies

Thiamine is an essential nutrient that must be consumed daily to help maintain proper biological functions. Research has found that thiamine may also help with certain disorders, such as:

  • Constipation — People who regularly experience constipation may benefit from increasing their thiamine levels because a deficiency in this vitamin slows down your digestion.13
  • Alcoholism Withdrawal — Alcoholics are typically deficient in vitamin B1, and if left untreated, they may develop Wernicke's encephalopathy, a neurological disorder that may arise from chronic alcohol abuse. To prevent alcohol-related complications from worsening, recovering alcoholics are usually given thiamine either via injection, intravenously or orally.14
  • Cognitive Dysfunction — Thiamine may help maintain mood and proper brain function, according to a study published in the journal Psychopharmacology. Researchers noted that test subjects who took 50 milligrams of thiamine each day for two months were more clearheaded, composed and energetic. Reaction times improved as well.15
  • Beriberi — Beriberi is a specific complication caused by lack of thiamine and is sometimes associated with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Thiamine supplements may help ease this disease, but those who are experiencing grave symptoms may require intravenous administration for immediate relief.16
  • Lipid Cell Damage — Research has shown that thiamine has been shown to help protect cell membranes from damage by inhibiting lipid peroxidation and free radical oxidation.17
  • Type 2 DiabetesOne study has shown that diabetics may benefit from thiamine by helping improve endothelial function and circulation of endothelial progenitor cells.18 In another study, thiamine has been suggested to help prevent the formation of harmful byproducts created by glucose metabolism among diabetics.19
  • Multiple Sclerosis — In a study published in BMJ Case Reports, thiamine has been reported to help greatly ease fatigue in people suffering from multiple sclerosis. Even if the thiamine levels of the subjects were normal, administering high doses had a positive effect, most likely because multiple sclerosis affects thiamine-dependent processes.20
  • Hepatitis B — According to a meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology, regular administration of thiamine was associated with reduction of aminotransferase levels and the fall of hepatitis B virus DNA to undetectable levels.21

Thiamine Deficiency Is Real and Can Greatly Affect Your Health

Thiamine deficiency, commonly known as beriberi, is the lack of thiamine pyrophosphate, the active form of vitamin B1 in your body.22 The disorder rarely occurs among healthy people because the vitamin is present in many foods. However, your risk of developing this disease greatly increases if you:23

  • Are an alcoholic
  • Eat a diet that contains large amounts of white rice
  • Have Crohn's disease
  • Are currently undergoing kidney dialysis
  • Are anorexic

Symptoms of beriberi largely vary depending on which part of your body becomes affected. Here are several indicators you need to watch out for – visit your doctor immediately if you experience any of them:24

  • Poor memory, irritability and sleep disturbance
  • Bilateral, symmetrical extremities paresthesias, plus burning pain
  • Muscle cramps, plus possible atrophy
  • Decreased vibratory position sensation
  • Foot drop
  • Absent knee and ankle jerk
  • Wernicke encephalopathy (sluggish pupils, vestibular dysfunction, disorientation and general confusion25)
  • Korsakoff syndrome (retrograde and anterograde amnesia in varying degrees, disorientation to time, emotional changes and decrease of initiative26)

If thiamine deficiency affects your cardiovascular system, you may experience chest pain, wide pulse pressure, heart failure, shock and tachycardia. Digestive disorders that may occur include anorexia, abdominal discomfort, constipation and dysphagia.27 In these cases, you may be able to prevent complications by consuming thiamine-rich foods, or by taking a high-quality supplement.

The Ideal Dosage for Thiamine and Its Possible Side Effects

Oral thiamine supplements are generally considered safe when the daily recommended amounts are followed, and don't require a prescription before purchasing. However, injectable thiamine (for more serious cases) requires administration by a medical professional.28

As a dietary supplement, the dosages vary depending on the age and gender. You may refer to the table below to give you an idea on how much you should take:29

Age and Group Dosage (in milligrams)
Infants (Newborn to 6 months) 0.2 mg
Developed infants (7 to 12 months) 0.3 mg
Toddlers (1 to 3 years) 0.5 mg
Children (4 to 8 years) 0.6 mg
Young boys (9 to 13 years) 0.9 mg
Young men (14 years and older) 1.2 mg
Young women (14 to 18 years) 1 mg
Young adult women (18 years and over) 1.1 mg
Pregnant women 1.4 mg
Breastfeeding women 1.5 mg
Adults (in general) 1 to 2 mg

While thiamine may have therapeutic applications that may help treat certain conditions, it may cause a few side effects of its own, and some of them are serious. Several indicators to watch out for include:30

  • Blue-colored lips
  • Chest pain with shortness of breath
  • Black, bloody or tarry stools
  • Coughing up blood or vomit that looks like coffee
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Mild rash or itching
  • Tenderness or a hard lump on the skin (if an injection is given)

If any of the aforementioned side effects appear, contact your doctor immediately to seek treatment. Another thing that you should take note of is the possible interactions of mixing thiamine with certain medications:31

  • Digoxin — This drug is commonly used to treat heart conditions, but it may also reduce the ability of cardiac cells to absorb and use thiamine.
  • Diuretics (water pills) — This classification of drugs may reduce thiamine levels in your body. Be sure to ask your doctor if you need a thiamine supplement if you're currently taking diuretics to treat a certain condition.
  • Phenytoin (Dilantin) — Commonly used for seizures,32 phenytoin may lower your thiamine levels, which can contribute to side effects associated with the drug. Similar to diuretics, ask your doctor if you need to take a thiamine supplement while taking phenytoin.

Foods Are Your Best Options for Thiamine, but Supplementation May Be Beneficial in Certain Cases

If you want to increase your thiamine levels, consuming foods rich in this vitamin is your best option. Aside from gaining this particular benefit, whole foods also contain other nutrients, fiber and antioxidants to help support your overall well-being in other ways.

However, there are certain cases where a higher dosage is needed, especially if you're being treated for deficiencies or a particular disease. In this regard, an oral supplement or an injectable variety (but with medical supervision) may work for you. Consult with a doctor first to get the optimal dosage for optimal recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions About Thiamine

Q: Can you drink alcohol with thiamine?

A: No, it's not safe to mix alcoholic beverages with thiamine because it's one of the main causes of vitamin B1 deficiency in the first place.33

Q: How does thiamine help with alcohol withdrawal?

A: Withdrawal symptoms occur when your body is used to large amounts of alcohol and becomes dependent on it. During treatment, thiamine is supplemented because this vitamin is commonly lacking among recovering alcoholics, helping restore normal body functions.34

Q: Is thiamine mononitrate safe?

A: Thiamin mononitrate is generally safe because it's a common form of vitamin B1 sold as a supplement.35

Q: What is thiamine used to treat for?

A: Thiamine is generally used to treat vitamin B1 deficiency, but evidence suggests that it may also help with other conditions such as depression, Alzheimer's disease, cataracts, heart failure and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.36

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