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Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)

Vitamin B1 is also called thiamine.

It’s the first of eight B vitamins overall and the first of seven B vitamins whose primary role is to extract energy from the food you eat to be used for the millions of reactions occurring in your body [1].

Vitamin B1 can be considered a sort of carb-burner because it’s the B vitamin that specializes in burning carbs.

Carbohydrates are the compounds you get from sweet or starchy foods, like fruit, potatoes, beans, and grains. 

The most unhealthy carbohydrates would be candy, soda and other sugary drinks.

You need thiamine to burn any kind of energy, including protein and fat.

And you need all the other B’s to burn carbs.

But here’s the thing:

  • You need TWICE as much thiamine to burn carbs as you need to burn fat.
  • No other B vitamin has such a special role in burning carbs.

The major take home message here is that eating more carbs won’t cause a thiamine deficiency, but not getting enough thiamine WILL prevent you from optimally breaking down or burning carbs.

Vitamin B1 Benefits

The Major Benefits of Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) include:

  1. Healthy Metabolism
  2. Maintaining Nerve Function
  3. Supporting a Healthy Heart
  4. Boosting Immunity
  5. Prevents Brain Disorders
  6. Enhances Learning
  7. Defends against Stress
  8. Supports Eye Health
  9. Helps Recycle Other Vitamins
  10. Used to Create Cellular Materials

1. Healthy Metabolism

Because vitamin B1 helps with carbohydrate burning potential, not having enough B1 can impact metabolism and glucose regulation [2, 3, 4].

Specifically, glucose would start to accumulate in our blood creating a condition known as “glucose intolerance.”

And if we let glucose intolerance continue, on a long enough timeline we end up with type two diabetes. 

Thiamine deficiency isn’t the only factor in diabetes or metabolic diseases, but it’s a big one.

2. Maintiaining Nerve Function

If we don’t get enough fuel from our diet, all sorts of biological processes begin to suffer.

The most energy demanding system of our body is the nervous system. And failing to adequately fuel the nervous system can result in nerve damage that impacts how we move, learn and remember.

Because vitamin B1 helps us to extract energy from carbohydrates, deficiencies of vitamin B1 can be detrimental to our nervous system [5].

3. Supporting a Healthy Heart

As we just discussed, Thiamine is essential for our nervous system and brain function. One of the neurological functions of thiamine is to produce a neurotransmitter called acetycholine.

Acetylcholine is used to relay messages between the brain and muscles, with our heart being one of the most important muscles that relies on these signals.

Several studies have recently discovered that vitamin B1 deficiencies are more common in heart failure patients, suggesting that B1 has a therapeutic role in heart health [6, 7, 8, 9].

4. Boosting Immunity

When we talk about Immunity, the health of our Gut and Digestive system should come under question.

Our digestive tract houses more than 80% of our immune system. This is why Gut Health and Immunity are intimately related.

Not only does vitamin B1 help to maintain the muscle tone along the walls of your digestive tract, but it also helps in the secretion of hydrochloric acid, which is essential for the complete digestion of food particles and absorption of nutrients [10, 11]. 

5. Prevents Brain Disorders

We already talked about the importance of vitamin B1 for brain and nervous system function.

But given the fact that Alzhiemers disease and cognitive decline are set to double by 2050, it’s important to make note that vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiencies can contribute to nerve connection defects [12, 13].

6. Enhances Learning

If we know that vitamin B1 is essential for protecting the brain from cognitivie decline, can thiamine improve learning and memory?

Studies have linked thiamine deficiency to problems learning and retaining information.

One study showed that thiamine caused quick reaction times and feelings of clear-headedness in those taking tests [14].

7. Defends Against Stress

B Vitamins are often referred to as the “anti-stress” vitamins. This has a lot to do with the fact that B vitamins regulate energy and a deficiency of B vitamins can result in low energy, poor mood and motivation.

Thiamine is needed to boost your mood and defend against depression and anxiety because of its positive effects on the brain [15].

8. Supports Eye Health

There is limited research to suggest that thiamine can help to defend against vision problems, such as cataracts and glaucoma.

This is due to its ability to influence nerve and muscle signaling, which is important in relaying information from the eyes to the brain [16, 17].

9. Helps Recycle Other Vitamins

Vitamin B1, along with vitamin B2 and vitamin B6 are necessary to recycle other vitamins and produce compounds that help to repair our cells [18].

10. Used to Create Cellular Material

Finally, without vitamin B1, you would not be able to produce several other structures necessary for life.

This includes ATP (the energy required for all functions), ribose, NAD and DNA [19].

Vitamin B1 Deficiency

Issues and diseases related to thiamine or vitamin B1 deficiencies are pretty serious.

Severe deficiencies of thiamine include:

  • Numbness and tingling in hands and feet.
  • Weak, paralyzed, or disordered muscles.
  • Rapid Heart Rate or Abnormal Heart Rhythm.
  • Loss of control of body movements
  • General Muscle Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Amnesia and Cognitive Decline

When severe thiamine deficiency only affects your hands, feet, and heart, it’s called “beriberi.”

When it affects eye muscles or your control over the bigger movements you make in your day-to-day life, it’s called “Wernicke’s encephalopathy.”

When it affects your mind, it’s called “Korsakoff’s psychosis.”

However, the most significant impact of vitamin B1 deficiency is on the nervous system.

This is because your nervous system requires so much glucose.

Every day, your brain consumes 120 grams of glucose, the amount found in 3-4 large potatoes. This glucose provides energy and is used to make brain chemicals that your brain cells use to communicate with each other.

These brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, are also what your nerves use to control your muscles.

Thiamin deficiency is overwhelmingly a problem of being a bad carb-burner, and having the nervous system starve as a result.

Vitamin B1 Foods

What foods contain vitamin B1 or Thiamine?

Here’s a list of the best food sources of vitamin B1:

  1. Nutritional Yeast
  2. Seaweed
  3. Sunflower seeds
  4. Macadamia Nuts
  5. Black Beans
  6. Lentils
  7. Organic Edamame
  8. Navy Beans
  9. White Beans
  10. Snap Peas

It’s also important consider that certain foods and microbes can inhibit thiamine absorption! This also includes certain diets such as Keto or Carnivore diet.

Here’s a list of foods that block vitamin B1 absorption:

  • Raw fish and shellfish
  • Ferns
  • The larvae of the African silkworm anaphe venata, a traditional food in many African countries
  • Various bacteria found in humans
  • Several known fungi
  • Sulfite

Here’s the best way to get vitamin B1 from food:

  • 2 heaping teaspoons of nutritional yeast
  • 3-4 ounces of legumes (lentils, peas, beans) measured before cooking
  • 3-4 ounces of whole grains, measured before cooking

Vitamin B1 Supplements

Thiamine has no known toxicity!

This means that it’s safe to supplement even if we don’t know whether or not we have a deficiency.

Different Types of Vitamin B1 Supplements

  • Thiamine hydrochloride (thiamine HCl)
  • Benfotiamine
  • Thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP)

Thiamine HCL is the cheapest and most common.

Benfotiamine is more expensive but thought to be better at getting into the nervous system.

Thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP) is the activated form which could be more effective for people who have energy problems (thyroid, low adrenals, diabetes).

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