Vitamin B1 (thiamine) Information

In depth research on essential vitamins.


Vitamin B1 also called Thiamine is a water-soluble organic compound that is a necessary part of our diet. Vitamin B1 prevents beriberi, a disease characterized by multiple neuritis (lesions of nerves), general debility, and painful rigidity.

Thiamine was the first vitamin to be isolated in pure form (in 1926). Its structure was determined and synthesized in 1936. Thiamine plays an important role in carbohydrate metabolism. It carries out these functions in its active form, as a component of the coenzyme thiamine pyrophosphate.

Thiamine aids the nervous system and is essential for the functioning of important enzymes. These enzymes have vital roles in the processes that make energy available in the body. Thiamine is essential for the transmission of certain types of nerve signal between the brain and the spinal cord. Depression, poor memory, muscle weakness and stiffness, nerve tingling, burning sensation and numbness, tiredness, headache, loss of appetite and nausea are some of the symptoms and signs of its deficiency.

Your body uses Vitamin B1 to process fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Every one of our cells needs thiamine to make adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which is the body's main energy-carrying molecule. The heart, in particular, has considerable need for thiamine in order to keep up its constant work.

Beriberi was common among sailors through the nineteenth century, but is rare today. Beriberi is still seen, however, in developing countries as well as in alcoholics and people with diseases that significantly impair the body's ability to absorb vitamin B1. Many of the principal symptoms of beriberi relate to impaired heart function.

We all need to take Thiamine on a daily and regular basis. Older people (over 55 years of age), those who consume large amounts of alcohol or have busy or stressful lives, and athletes need to take even more Thiamine. So do people of all ages whose diets are restricted or of poor quality.

A decline in vitamin B1 levels occurs with age, irrespective of medical condition.1 Deficiency is also commonly found in people with malabsorption conditions, children with congenital heart disease, persons with chronic fatigue syndrome, and those individuals undergoing regular kidney dialysis. Such persons may develop severe vitamin B1 deficiency, which can result in potentially fatal complications. Persons receiving dialysis should discuss the need for vitamin B1 supplementation with their physician.

Alcoholism, congestive heart failure, Crohn's disease, anorexia, kidney dialysis, folate deficiency, and multiple sclerosis may all lead to a vitamin B1 deficiency, and people with these conditions should consider taking B1 supplements. Certain foods may impair your body's absorption of B1 as well, including fish, clams, shrimp, mussels, and the herb horsetail.

While the ideal intake is uncertain, one study reported the healthiest people consumed more than 9 mg per day. The amount found in many multivitamin supplements (20-25 mg) is more than adequate for most people. Vitamin B1 is nontoxic, even in very high amounts. Very high dosages of B1, up to 8 g daily, are recommended for a variety of conditions.

Thiamine is used to treat congestive heart failure (CHF), a condition in which the pumping ability of the heart declines and fluid begins to accumulate in the lungs and legs. Standard treatment for CHF includes strong "water pills" known as loop diuretics. These diuretics, however, deplete the body of Vitamin B1. Because the heart depends on vitamin B1 for its proper function, this is potentially quite worrisome. There is some evidence that supplementation with B1 can improve symptoms, particuarly for those taking diuretics.

Individuals with alcoholism, Crohn's disease, anorexia, or multiple sclerosis may also benefit from thiamin supplementation as part of general nutritional support.

Korsakoff's syndrome is a deficiency of vitamin B-1 (or thiamine) which causes cardiovascular, central and peripheral nervous system disturbances. The disease results from either inadequate dietary intake or from impaired absorption or utilization of vitamin B1. It is common in the Orient where excessive milling of rice reduces its thiamine content and also in chronic alcoholics.

Vitamin B1 used as part of the treatment for this condition, which is characterized by severe memory impairment. It is, however, preferable to start using Thiamine supplements if you are an alcoholic, before Korsakoff's syndrome sets in because it might just be too late by then.

In addition, vitamin B1 may be helpful for Alzheimer's disease. Vitamin B1 has also been proposed as a treatment for epilepsy, canker sores, and fibromyalgia. Vitamin B1 appears to be quite safe even when taken in very high doses. Thiamine is in the FDA pregnancy category A. This means that thiamine is considered to be safe for use during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor before taking thiamine if you are pregnant. It is not known whether thiamine passes into breast milk. Do not take thiamine without first talking to your doctor if you are breast-feeding. There are no restrictions on food, beverages, or activities while taking thiamine.

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