Vitamin B1 or as chemically termed thiamin or thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin and one of the eight vitamins of the B-complex. Termed as the “morale vitamin”, the essential nutrients in thiamine play a pivotal role in maintaining a healthy nervous system and promoting cardiac health.

Vitamin B1 is a colourless organo-sulphur compound which is soluble in water and transported throughout the body by dissolving in the blood. It is not produced inside the human body and needs to be taken in the form of dietary food options or as supplements.

It facilitates the body in breaking down food i.e. complex carbohydrates into simple forms of sugar i.e. glucose, fats and proteins which in turn provides energy for carrying out various bodily activities.

Thiamine was the first vitamin to be discovered in the year 1897. Initially, thiamine was named as "aneurin" (for anti-neuritic vitamin). Later, it was termed as Thiamine or “thio” or “sulphur-containing” vitamins and was first synthesized by dutch chemists Barend Coenraad Petrus Jansen and Willem Frederik Donath in the year 1936.

Vitamin B1 sources

Functions

Being a potent antioxidant and neural compound, thiamine plays a significant role in treating a myriad of ailments and their complications including the brain, nervous system, muscles, heart and stomach.

Thiamine is generally taken by people to alleviate the risks and symptoms of thiamine deficiency like beriberi, pellagra, inflammation of the nerves outside the brain or peripheral neuritis.

Several types of research suggest that thiamine is extremely beneficial for diabetic pain, heart problems, alcohol addiction, cataract, glaucoma, motion sickness, cerebellar syndrome (a type of brain damage), canker sores, diabetic pain, kidney disease, menstrual problems and AIDS.

It is also required for boosting immunity, improving athletic performance and muscle strength, preventing kidney disease in type 2 diabetic patients and cervical cancer.

Thiamine is a powerful antioxidant and helps to remove harmful free radicals from the body. It also rejuvenates the skin, reduces various signs of ageing like wrinkles, fine lines, spots, dark circles etc.

The supplements and foods containing thiamine are also found to be effective in treating diarrhoea, ulcerative colitis. It helps in the secretion of hydrochloric acid, thus improving digestion.

Thiamine plays a pivotal role in managing several neural disorders like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Bell’s palsy and a memory disorder called Wernicke's encephalopathy syndrome. It also improves memory and concentration.

Thiamine shots or injections are also given to patients suffering from a coma or those who are terminally ill. It is also a potent remedy for people who have been diagnosed with maple syrup urine disease and Leigh’s disease.

Known as the anti-stress hormone, it alleviates stress and improves the body’s ability to withstand high levels of stress. It is also useful in enhancing learning abilities in children and adults and increasing stamina.

Food Sources

The morale vitamin is extremely vital for the healthy functioning of the body. Unlike vitamins A, D, E and K, this water-soluble vitamin cannot be produced by the body, hence to fulfil the dietary needs one has to strictly depend on external food sources and supplements. And much to our respite, Mother Nature has blessed us with a bountiful amount of natural food sources laden with vitamin B1 that suffices our daily requirements.

Following are the food sources high in vitamin B1:

Vegetables abundant in vitamin B1 are green peas, lima beans, soybean sprouts, squash, potato, cauliflower, asparagus, kale, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, spinach, tuna, Brussels sprouts and eggplant.

Fruits like oranges and dairy products like yoghurt, cheddar cheese and milk also contain some quantities of vitamin B1.

Breakfast cereals containing granola, muesli, oatmeal, whole wheat, rye etc and grain products like wheat germ, cornflour, pasta, granola bars and bread are abundant in vitamin B1.

Some animal sources having a rich source of vitamin B1 are sea fishes like tuna, mackerel, salmon, mussels and pork and beef.

Some amount of vitamin B1 is also present in nuts like pistachio, brazil nut, macadamia nuts, pecan nuts, peanuts and in pulses and yeasts.

As heating and processing the various food sources, reduces the thiamine content in it, it is advisable to consume it raw, unprocessed or slightly cooked.

Deficiency

Being a potent antioxidant, this neural vitamin has a host of benefits. Although it is rare, the lack of it might lead to some deficiency syndromes involving the nervous system, heart, muscles and gastrointestinal system. It is mostly caused in humans either due to high excretion level of thiamine from the body or due low absorption of thiamine from food sources.

Initially, the symptoms of thiamine deficiency can be observed as weight loss, confusion, anorexia, agitation, weakness, dizziness, insomnia, heart problems, low energy, muscle weakness, short term memory loss, peripheral neuropathy, sonophobia, muscular atrophy, myalgia, depression, emotional instability, uncooperative behaviour, fearfulness, backache, nausea, vomiting and constipation, etc.

The various symptoms if not treated on time or left untreated can lead to severe deficiency disorders like Beriberi and several abnormalities related to the brain and neural system.

The 3 Different Types Of Beriberi Observed In Thiamine Deficient Patients Are:

Dry Beriberi:

This deficiency syndrome causes wasting and partial paralysis and is characterized by nerve and muscle abnormalities, a prickling sensation in the toes, a burning sensation in the feet at night, leg cramps, muscle atrophy, mental confusion, vomiting etc.

Wet Beriberi:

This deficiency syndrome weakens the capillaries and mostly affects the cardiovascular system and causes vasodilation, increased heart rate, dyspnoea, oedema and dilated cardiomyopathy.

Gastrointestinal Beriberi:

This type of deficiency mostly cause abdominal pain and is characterized by symptoms like pain, cramps, vomiting, nausea etc.

Infantile Beriberi:

Affecting mostly children between two to six months and can be characterized by symptoms like pale skin, hoarseness, diarrhoea, oedema, vomiting, weight loss etc. It requires immediate attention and treatment as the acute form might be fatal for the infants.

Other symptoms of deficiency include depression, emotional instability, fearfulness, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, memory loss, pain sensitivity, peripheral neuropathy, agitation, weakness, dizziness, sonophobia, backache, muscular atrophy, myalgia and constipation.

Thiamine deficiency may also lead to severe ailments like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, African Seasonal Ataxia, optic neuropathy, Leigh's disease, and central pontine myelinolysis.

People following an unhealthy lifestyle, poor dietary choices, cancer, bariatric surgery, and haemodialysis are also at major risk of thiamin deficiency.

Toxicity

Vitamin B1 is a water-soluble nutrient that gets removed from the body via urine, hence one has to follow a well-balanced diet to maintain a good supply of thiamine. It is one such essential nutrient which does not show any adverse effects when consumed through natural food sources. But it is strongly advocated to consult a doctor or physician before taking thiamine supplements along with the food.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of thiamin is 1.2 mg for males and 1.1 mg for females over the age of 18 years. Pregnant or breastfeeding women of any age should not consume more than 1.4 mg per day. Anything more than the mentioned limit without doctor’s consultation might cause allergic reactions like nausea, vomiting, stomach cramp and impaired consciousness and coordination.

Conclusion

Being a quintessential ingredient, this water-soluble vitamin is highly beneficial for a host of health benefits like maintaining a healthy nervous system and promoting cardiac health. It is also beneficial for complications and ailments related to the stomach, memory, eyes, kidney etc. Since the deficiency of this morale vitamin leads to deficiency syndromes like beriberi, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Leigh’s disease etc, hence one must undergo proper consultation with a doctor and fulfil the recommended dietary intake of thiamine.