Vitamin B1, thiamin, or thiamine enables the body to use carbohydrates as energy. It is essential for glucose metabolism, and it plays a key role in nerve, muscle, and heart function.
Vitamin B1 is a water-soluble vitamin, as are all vitamins of the B complex.
Contents of this article:
What are water-soluble vitamins?
Meat, fish, and grains are a good source of Vitamin B1
Vitamins are classified according to the materials they dissolve in. Some vitamins dissolve in water and others dissolve in fat. Water-soluble vitamins are carried through the bloodstream. Whatever the body does not use is eliminated in urine.
Humans need a continuous supply of vitamin B1, because it is not stored in the body. It should be part of the daily diet.
What do B vitamins do?
All B vitamins are water-soluble. They help to convert carbohydrates, fats, and protein into energy, or glucose. They are necessary for keeping the liver, skin, hair, and eyes healthy. They also play a role in the nervous system, and they are needed for good brain function.
The B vitamins are sometimes called anti-stress vitamins, because they boost the body's immune system in times of stress.
What does vitamin B1 do?
Vitamin B1, or thiamin, helps to prevent complications in the nervous system, brain, muscles, heart, stomach, and intestines. It is also involved in the flow of electrolytes into and out of muscle and nerve cells.
It helps to prevent diseases such as beriberi, which involves disorders of the heart, nerves, and digestive system.
Weight loss and anorexia can develop if thiamin is lacking. There may be mental problems, including confusion and short-term memory loss. Muscle weakness may develop, and cardiovascular symptoms can occur, for example, an enlarged heart.
Alcoholism has been linked to thiamin deficiency. Heavy consumption of alcohol can mean that a person does not absorb thiamin from their food.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a disorder that affects people with chronic alcoholism. It is linked to a lack of thiamin, and it can be fatal if not treated.
People with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and those who are withdrawing from alcohol may receive thiamin injections to help them recover.
Other diseases, such as HIV, can reduce the absorption of nutrients, and this can lead to a deficiency of vitamin B1.
Where do we find vitamin B1?
There are high concentrations of Vitamin B1 in the outer layers and germ of cereals, as well as in yeast, beef, pork, nuts, whole grains, and pulses. Fruit and vegetables that contain it include cauliflower, liver, oranges, eggs, potatoes, asparagus, and kale. Other sources include brewer's yeast and blackstrap molasses.
Breakfast cereals and products made with white flour or white rice may be enriched with vitamin B.
In the United States, people consume around half of their vitamin B1 intake in foods that naturally contain thiamin, while the rest comes from foods that are fortified with the vitamin.
Heating, cooking and processing foods, and boiling them in water, destroy thiamin. As vitamin B1 is water-soluble, it dissolves into cooking water. White rice that is not enriched will contain only one tenth of the thiamin available in brown rice.
How much vitamin B1 do we need?
In the U.S., recommended daily allowance (RDA) of thiamin taken by mouth is 1.2 milligrams for males and 1.1 milligrams for females over the age of 18 years. Pregnant or breastfeeding women of any age should consume 1.4 milligrams each day.
The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements note that one serving of fortified breakfast cereal provides 1.5 milligrams of thiamin, which is more than 100 percent of the daily recommended amount.
One slice of whole wheat bread contains 0.1 milligrams, or 7 percent of the daily requirement, while cheese, chicken, and apples contain no thiamin.
Is it a good idea to take supplements?
While evidence does not confirm any harm from too much vitamin B1, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns on the use of supplements.
They urge people to check with their health care provider before using supplements with or as a substitute for foods, and they call on the public to seek a physician's advice on how to improve their health, rather than self-diagnosing.
Who is at risk of low Vitamin B1?
Signs of thiamin deficiency include weight loss, anorexia, and cognitive issues, such as confusion and short-term memory loss. There may be muscle weakness and cardiovascular problems, for example an enlarged heart.
A deficiency of vitamin B1 commonly leads to beriberi, a condition that features problems with the peripheral nerves and wasting.
Uses of vitamin B in medicine
Patients who may receive thiamin to treat low levels of vitamin B1 include those with peripheral neuritis, which is an inflammation of the nerves outside the brain, or pellagra.
Some athletes take thiamin supplements to boost their performance.
Some athletes may use thiamin to help improve their performance. It is not on the WADA or USADA lists of prohibited substances for athletes.
Other conditions in which thiamin supplements may help include:
- Canker sores
- Glaucoma and other vision problems
- Cerebellar syndrome, a type of brain damage
- Cervical cancer
- Diabetic pain
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease in patients with diabetes type 2
- Motion sickness
- A weakened immune system.
Not all of these uses have been definitively confirmed by research.
Interactions with vitamin B1
Tea and coffee contain tannins, chemicals that may interact with thiamin, making it harder to absorb.
Some of the chemicals in raw shellfish and fish can destroy thiamin, potentially leading to a deficiency if eaten in large quantities. Cooking destroys these chemicals, but it destroys thiamin too.
Foods containing vitamin B1 should not be overcooked.