The B Vitamin Series , Vitamin B1

The B Vitamin Series , Vitamin B1

Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, was the first B vitamin scientists discovered. Small amounts of this vitamin can be found in nearly all foods, however, modern processing methods are decreasing the availability of this essential nutrient. Vitamin B1 is sometimes referred to as an "anti-stress" vitamin because it can benefit the immune system and improve an individual’s ability to combat stressful conditions.

History of Vitamin B1?

Vitamin B1 was discovered in 1897 by Dutch pathologist and physician Christiaan Eijkman. Eijkman moved to the Dutch East Indies in the 1890’s to study BeriBeri, a disease that causes fatigue, weakness and heart failure, to analyse the role diet played on the onset of the disease. BeriBeri was an extremely common disease in countries that were heavily dependent on rice consumption. In his study, Eijkman used rice as a staple in the diet of chickens, to analyse how dietary alterations may influence the health status and mortality rates of the chickens. He noted that chickens who were fed cooked, white rice were more prone to sickness and early death compared to chickens eating unpolished, uncooked rice. By 1926, vitamin B1 was isolated as the component within the uncooked rice that prevented sickness and death. It was discovered that vitamin B1 is prone to heat damage, and is contained in the outer layers of rice, therefore cooking methods were polishing off the B1 content from the food. Eijkman’s discovery of vitamin B1 led to the concept of vitamins and earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 1929.

What is the prevalence of vitamin B1 deficiency?

 Vitamin B1 deficiency outbreaks occur mainly in rural, underprivileged areas such as with refugees in Thailand (1980-1993), in Guinea (1990), Djibouti (1993) and Nepal (1993-1995). In more westernised societies, B1 deficiency is far less common but still apparent among alcoholics, patients on restricted diets for obesity, those who undertake fad diets and people who receive total parenteral nutrition. Any form of restrictive diet, or one that lacks adequate variety, is likely to lead to a deficiency of the vitamin. A National Diet and Nutrition Survey in the United States stated 20% of people (>2 years old) failed to consume the recommended daily amount of dietary vitamin B1. Further to this, it is speculated that over 50% of people would not reach the daily recommended intake if manufacturers did not ‘enrich’ wheat flour (the method of adding nutrients back into foods that are lost during processing).

What are the symptoms of Vitamin B1 deficiency?

Vitamin B1 deficiency can develop within 2-3 months of inadequate intake. Like all B vitamins, it should be consumed daily as it is water soluble and therefore cannot be stored in the body for later use. Symptoms of vitamin B1 deficiency are fatigue, irritability, headache, nausea, depression and abdominal discomfort. In addition, a lack of B1 can potentially reduce carbohydrate utilisation, which causes a build-up of pyruvic acid in the blood. Excess internal pyruvic acid negatively affects mental function, heart damage, breathing and may lead to BeriBeri disease.

BeriBeri disease symptoms depend on the type of the disease. ‘Wet’ beriberi affects the heart and circulatory system, causing a shortness of breath, accelerated heart rate and swollen lower legs. ‘Dry’ beriberi damages the nervous system, causing decreased muscular function, vomiting, pain, involuntary eye movement and paralysis. As symptoms can be severe, BeriBeri is treated with vitamin B1 supplements or through intravenous administration of vitamin B1 in severe circumstances.

What foods contain Vitamin B1?

Vitamin B1 can be found in a wide range of food groups. Plant-based sources are seeds (sunflower, flax, chia), nuts (macadamia, pistachio, brazil, pecans, cashews), wheat bread, green peas, sweet corn, squash, barley, lentils, and beans (navy, pink, black, mung). Animal-based sources are fish (trout, salmon, tuna, shad, mackerel) and pork. Sunflower seeds, lean pork and macadamia nuts are the richest sources from this list contributing to 99%, 74% and 47% of the daily recommended amount, respectively, per 100 grams serving.

How much do you need per day?

Age Male Female Pregnant Lactating
0-6 months 0.2 mg 0.3 mg
7-12 months 0.3 mg 0.4 mg
1-3 years 0.5 mg 0.5 mg
4-8 years 0.6 mg 0.6 mg
9-13 years 0.9 mg 0.9 mg
4-18 years 1.2 mg 1.0 mg 1.4 mg 1.4 mg
19-50 years 1.2 mg 1.1 mg 1.4 mg 1.4 mg
51-70 years 1.2 mg 1.1 mg
70+ years 1.2 mg 1.1 mg

What are the health benefits of Vitamin B1?

Nearly all vitamin B1 found within the human body, ~25mg for an adult is in the form of thiamine diphosphate (TDP). TDP plays an essential role in many metabolic functions and has benefits such as:

  • Functioning as an essential cofactor for 5 important enzymes regarding glucose, lipids and amino acid metabolism [1].
  • Forming adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an energy-carrying molecule within cell mitochondria that is needed for muscular contraction and cellular processes, including biosynthetic reactions, motility, and cell division [2].
  • Helping the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose, which is the bodies preferred source of energy.
  • Assisting the production of red blood cells.
  • Improving anti-inflammatory effects [3].
  • Oxidising sugars through a reaction called pyruvate dehydrogenase, a key pathway within carbohydrate metabolism, protecting against nerve damage [4].
  • Producing the acetylcholine transmitter, the key for message signalling between the nerves and heart (and other muscles), which may prevent against heart failure [5].
  • Improving eye health and reducing the incidence of nuclear cataracts by 40% [6].

Vitamin B1’s beneficial health effects on the metabolism and immunity make it an important vitamin for everyone to consume every day. Individuals should make sure to incorporate a good variety of B1 containing foods into their diet. Supplementation may be necessary for those who do not eat a substantial amount of these foods and is a necessity for alcoholics who show decreased absorption of thiamine from the gastrointestinal tract, and impaired thiamine utilisation in cells [7].

  1. Said. HM et al. (2010). Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. 2nd ed, London and New York: Informa Healthcare
  2. Lonsdale. D. (2006). A review of the biochemistry, metabolism and clinical benefits of thiamin(e) and its derivatives, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med.
  3. Moallem. SA et al. (2008). A study of acute and chronic anti-nociceptive and anti-inflammatory effects of thiamine in mice, Iran Biomed J.
  4. Lonsdale. D. (2002). Thiamin(e): the spark of life, Subcell Biochem.
  5. DiNicolantonio. JJ et al. (2013). Thiamine supplementation for the treatment of heart failure: a review of the literature, Congest Heart Fail.
  6. Cumming. RG et al. (2000). Diet and cataract: the Blue Mountains Eye Study, Ophthalmology.
  7. Martin. PR et al. (2004). The Role of Thiamine Deficiency in Alcoholic Brain Disease, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  8. The new CSS cleaner allows you to organize your style sheets.
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