Understanding Thiamin: Vitamin B1

 Background

Thiamin (sometimes also spelled thiamine) was the first B Vitamin to be discovered. It doesn’t do anything spectacular to grab attention from headlines, it’s more like a good defensive lineman and works along the other members of the B team to keep you healthy. Thiamin’s special job is to help convert carbohydrates in food into energy the body can use.

The Role It Plays

The body goes through an amazing complex series of steps to turn food into energy. All of the B vitamins are involved in every one of those steps, alone or working together. One particular step needs an enzyme called thiamin pyrophosphate, or TPP, to work. Without thiamin, we can’t make the enzyme, and without the enzyme, the whole process stops.

Thiamin is also needed to keep the brain and nervous system fueled up. The brain runs on glucose and thiamin helps the brain and nervous system absorb enough glucose. Without thiamin the brain and nervous system gets about half the glucose it needs. When you’re brain doesn’t get enough fuel, you start to get forgetful, depressed, tired, and apathetic.

Types of Thiamin

Thiamin is water-soluble, so you need some every day. Thiamin is also known as Vitamin B1 and thiamine.

RDA

 

Age Thiamin
0 – 5 months 0.3 mg
5 m – 1 year 0.4 mg
1-3 years 0.7 mg
4-6 years 0.9
7-10 years 1.0 mg
Men 11-14 years 1.3 mg
Men 15-50 1.5 mg
Men 50+ 1.2 mg
Women 11-50 1.1 mg
Women 50+ 1.0 mg
Pregnant Women 1.5 mg
Nursing Women 1.6 mg

 

Safe Dosage

There’s no known toxicity from taking thiamin supplements – people have taken over 300 mg a day with no bad effects. There’s no reason at all to take that much, but it is safe.

Make It Work Better

The B vitamins work together to covert food into energy. All the B Vitamins are needed. Thiamin is also helped by magnesium. Alcohol and/or a shortage of other B Vitamins will effect thiamin.

Be aware that what you drink with your food affects how much thiamin you get. Alcohol and the tannins found in tea destroy thiamin. To get the most thiamin from your food, skip these beverages during meals and drink them afterward instead (emphasis on drinking tea!).

Sulfites, preservatives added to prepared foods, also destroy thiamin in food. Because of customer complaints most restaurants have stopped adding sulfites to salad bars and precut fruit, but they’re still sometimes used and especially in places where customers can’t complain, like school and company cafeterias and nursing homes. Sulfites are also added to many convenience foods. Read your labels.

Good Sources

B vitamin are found in many of the same foods, so eating foods high in thiamin will also give you riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, biotin, and pantothenic acid.

Wheat germ, sunflower seeds, whole grains, and all kinds of nuts are excellent food sources for thiamin. Beans and peas are also a good source along with oranges, raisins, asparagus, cauliflower, potatoes, milk, and whole wheat bread. Some whole grains that are high in thiamin are whole wheat, oatmeal, and brown rice.

Deficiency

Beriberi, a disease that symptoms can start after only 10 days without enough thiamin, occurs in less developed world areas, but is extremely rare in our modern society. Beriberi means “I can’t, I can’t”. That’s a pretty good way of describing what happens when you don’t get enough thiamin. Muscle weakness, appetite loss, poor coordination, a tingling feeling in the nerves, and severe pain in the calves are among the symptoms. Sometimes a person also gets an enlarged heart.

Thiamin is easily found in a typical diet with one very big exception: people who abuse alcohol. For one thing alcoholics tend to eat poorly, so they’re vitamin intake in general is very low. Because they don’t eat enough thiamin in the first place and then the alcohol destroys most of what little they do get – alcoholics are deficient in thiamin. To add to that, alcohol will cause increased urination and thiamin is water-soluble (excreted through the urine) – which makes them excrete thiamin faster. Chronic alcoholics need large amounts of thiamin supplements. Eventually, thiamin deficiency from alcoholism causes a type of nerve damage called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. The symptoms can usually be helped by giving up alcohol and eating a good diet, but the syndrome only worsens and leads to death if alcohol abuse continues.

Those with special health problems may also become deficient in thiamin. Mild thiamin deficiency generally causes tiredness, muscle weakness, a pins-and-needles feeling in the legs, depression, and constipation.

Many elderly people don’t eat well and don’t get enough thiamin in their diet, especially if they live in a nursing home.

Pregnant and nursing women are passing a lot of thiamin on to the baby so they may need about 0.5 mg extra every day.

If you diet a lot and get less than 1,500 calories a day or eat only a few different foods, you’re probably not getting enough thiamin.

People who fast frequently are low in thiamin. Thiamin is needed every day for good health.

Diabetics may be excreting too much thiamin in their urine.

People with kidney disease and are on dialysis should talk to their doctor about a supplement.

People with chronic infections, that cause frequent fevers need more thiamin because fevers make the body run faster.

Most people, even ones with health issues listed here, get enough thiamin. A real deficiency is pretty rare.

 

Was this information helpful? Send a comment letting me know.

 

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