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Everything You Need To Know About Thiamine

Everything You Need To Know About Thiamine
Reading Time: 5 minutes

What Is Thiamine?

Thiamine (Vitamin B1) is an essential nutrient (not produced by the human body) needed to metabolize carbohydrates. It is a part of the B-complex family and is found in whole grains, meat and fish as well as dietary supplements. It is only made by bacteria, fungi and plants. The Recommended Daily Value (RDV) for thiamine is 1.5mg as prescribed by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA). This value is based on a caloric intake of 2000 calories for adults and children four years and older. [1]

Thiamine acts in combination with adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the liver, kidneys and the leukocytes to produce thiamine diphosphate, also known as thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP), the coenzyme which breaks down carbohydrates in certain reactions.

A deficiency in thiamine results in various disorders; the most well-known are Beriberi and Wernickle-Korsakoff syndrome (described below). [3] 

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Facts About Thiamine

  • Thiamine is on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of Essential Medicines
  • Thiamine was discovered 1897, isolated in 1926 and synthesized in 1936.
  • Only bacteria, fungi and plants are able to make thiamine.
  • Thiamine intake of more than 5mg/day actually results in a decline in thiamine absorption.
  • Alcohol or folic deficiency inhibits absorption of thiamine.
  • Tannins in teas and coffee convert thiamine into a form which is not easily absorbed, leading to thiamine deficiency.
  • Raw freshwater fish and shellfish contain chemicals which destroy thiamine.
  • Areca nuts and Horsetail (Equisetum) herb destroy thiamine therefore leading to thiamine deficiency.
  • Sulfites added to foods as preservatives also destroy thiamine.[3] [4]
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Foods Containing Thiamine

Bacteria, fungi and plants are able to make thiamine; however humans have to obtain it from foods and supplements. Foods containing thiamine include yeast, cereal grains, beans, nuts, pork and beef.

Thiamine may also be obtained from dietary supplements and is recommended as follows:[4][5]

Age/Gender/Condition US RDV
Infants 0-6 months 0.2mg
Infants 6-12 months 0.3mg
Children 1-3 years 0.5mg
Children 4-8 years 0.6mg
Children 9-13 years 0.9mg
Women 14-18 years 1.0mg
Women 19+ years 1.1mg
Pregnant/Lactating 14-50 years 1.4 mg
Men 14+ years 1.2mg
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Is Thiamine Bad For You?

Thiamine is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system. Thiamine is needed for the very sustenance of cellular function, providing the energy (ATP) needed to carry out its complex reactions.

Thiamine plays a very integral role in one’s diet and when it is not in adequate supply it results in serious disorders. But there are cases where persons may be allergic to thiamine, which results in anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, manifests through the following symptoms: an itchy rash, swelling of the throat or tongue, shortness of breath, vomiting, lightheadedness and low blood pressure; this reaction may lead to death. The primary treatment of anaphylaxis is the administering of an epinephrine injection into a muscle, intravenous fluids, and positioning the person flat. Anaphylaxis usually occurs as a result of intravenous administering of thiamine at very high doses (500mg) when treating other disorders caused by thiamine deficiency [6]

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Benefits Of Thiamine

The inclusion of thiamine in one’s diet is integral; it is important in the prevention of certain disorders. Thiamine may be obtained from the foods we eat, or taken as supplement to prevent further thiamine deficiency or to treat specific conditions. Thiamine is used to treat deficiency syndromes such as beriberi and neuritis (inflammation of the nerves) associated with pellagra or pregnancy.

There are two types of beriberi: wet and dry. Wet beriberi affects the heart and circulatory system, and in extreme cases can cause heart failure. Dry beriberi damages the nerves and can lead to decreased muscle strength and eventual muscle paralysis. Beriberi can be life-threatening if it isn’t treated.[9] For the treatment of Beriberi in adults 5-30mg of thiamine is administered daily for 1 month, while for infants and children 10-50mg for 2 weeks initially then 5-10mg is given once per day for 1 month.

Thiamine is also used to treat metabolic disorders associated with genetic diseases such as Leigh’s disease and maple syrup urine disease.

Thiamine is used to treat the brain disorder Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is often seen in alcoholics, resulting from thiamine deficiency due to the fact that alcohol inhibits thiamine absorption. Wernicke-Korsakoff results in loss of mental activity, confusion, memory loss, loss of muscle coordination, vision changes, and can progress to coma and death.[10]

Thiamine is used to treat painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea) in young ladies 12-21yrs of age.

Thiamine is specifically needed for a system of enzyme reactions called pyruvate dehydrogenase, which works to oxidize sugars that we eat. With insufficient energy from food going toward the functioning of the nervous system, nerve damage can occur—resulting in trouble moving, learning and remembering information.

Thiamine also helps with proper development of myelin sheaths, which wrap around nerves to protect them from damage and death.

Adequate thiamine in the body is critical for the production of Acetyl-CoA, which is a neurotransmitter. Its primary function is to transmit messages from the nerves to the muscles, with the heart being the main muscle relying on these signals. In order to maintain proper cardiac function and healthy heart rhythms, the nerves and muscles need proper signaling between each other.

Thiamine can help to ward off vision problems such as cataracts and glaucoma. This is due to its ability to influence muscle and nerve signaling, which is important in relaying information from the eye to the brain.

Other uses of thiamine include treatment of liver disease in persons with type 2 diabetes.

In addition, thiamine is also needed to boost one’s mood and defend against depression because of its positive effects on the brain. Thiamine also prevents inflammation and helps maintain overall brain function that is responsible for decision making. Healthy brain function is crucial for controlling stress and boosting one’s mood.

Thiamine is also used for digestive problems including poor appetite, ulcerative colitis and ongoing diarrhea. Furthermore, thiamine helps to maintain the muscle tone of the digestive tract, where much of the immune system is located. A healthy digestive tract allows for better absorption of nutrients which boosts the immune system preventing one from getting ill. Thiamine helps in the secretion of hydrochloric acid, which is essential in the complete break-down and absorption of foods.[2] [4] [7]

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Negative Impact Of Thiamine On The Body

Consuming thiamine in large amounts is not much of a concern seen that it is a water-soluble vitamin, furthermore there is a limit to how much the body absorbs. When this limit is reached the body excretes the excess in the urine within a few hours. The most concern associated with high thiamine intake is if one is allergic to it as studies have shown where high doses administered as treatment resulted in anaphylaxis. If symptoms of hives, difficulty breathing, swollen tongue, face or lips occur then one should seek emergency medical treatment. Other less severe side effects are nausea, sweating, mild rash, feeling restless and tenderness or hard lump where a thiamine injection was given. [8]

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How To Minimize Exposure

Minimizing one’s exposure would only be in the context of supplements, and this would only be recommended if persons are allergic to treatment with thiamine. Otherwise healthy individuals are encouraged to make thiamine an integral part of their diet due to its many advantages and the role it plays in the body’s daily metabolic functions.

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Should You Worry About Thiamine?

Thiamine is considered an essential vitamin and therefore cannot be excluded from one’s diet due to its functionality in the body. There are no serious side effects associated with the recommended daily intake of this vitamin and even at higher doses the body’s mechanism removes it successfully. The only concern is if one has a known allergic reaction to thiamine given in the form of supplements. In this case, precautionary measures should be taken, this can be in the form of arm bands indicating this allergy.

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Final Thoughts

Thiamine is needed for a variety of functions in the body; it is integral in providing energy and aids in many metabolic processes in the body. Insufficient thiamine in the body results in thiamine deficiency along with a whole array of disorders which may require treatment with a combination of vitamins and other prescribed drugs. One should ensure that foods rich in thiamine are consumed so as to ensure that they are getting an adequate supply of this very essential vitamin.

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