Vitamin B1: The Uses and Health Benefits of Thiamin

Takeaway: Vitamin B1 protects nerves, improves memory, alleviates the effects of alcoholism, and prevents heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Additionally, vitamin B1 has powerful anti-aging properties. Vitamin B1 deficiencies can cause brain abnormalities, wet beriberi and dry beriberi, and infantile beriberi.

The human body is a highly sophisticated machine that is often likened to an automobile. They share many similarities such as having codependent parts that require fuel to function and components that are not easily replaceable.

But, to say that the human body functions exactly like a car is an understatement. A closer look at our bodies from the lens of the microscope would prove that it is far more complex than any man-made invention.

The way our bodies assimilate energy is one proof of its intricacies. While gasoline is readily available to fill a car’s tank, our bodies require an extra step before it is able to attain the energy it needs. It is responsible for breaking down and transforming its energy from food sources, and it is also accountable for distributing said energy to facilitate various bodily functions. But how is it possible, and what goes on during this said process?

This is where vitamins and nutrients enter the picture. Though there are a handful of vitamins that are involved in the process, there are a few that are considered to be the main overseers of energy production within the body – vitamin B1 thiamin being one of them.

What Is Vitamin B1?

Vitamin B1, also known as thiamin, is an essential vitamin that our body needs to maintain its good health and well-being. It is one out of eight other B vitamins that were grouped and collectively referred to as B-complex vitamins.

Like all B-complex vitamins, thiamin is water-soluble, which means that there is no internal storage for the vitamin within the body. Unlike its fat-soluble counterparts, vitamins A, D, E, and K, thiamin cannot be stored within the body’s fatty tissues.

Thiamin is easily depleted because of its many uses and functions within the body. And, because of its water-soluble characteristics, any excess of vitamin B1 within the body is excreted from the body in the form of urine. Therefore, thiamin toxicity has never been an issue.

That said, it is crucial that our bodies get replenished with the right amount of vitamin B1 daily. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of thiamin from one’s daily diet is 1.2 mg for adult males and 1.2 mg for females over the age of 18. However, pregnant or breastfeeding women must consume 1.4 mg of thiamin each day regardless of their age.

What Does Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) Do?

Vitamin B1 thiamin is one of many types of vitamins and nutrients that have multiple duties within the body. From energy production to cleaning out liver toxins and excess hormones, thiamin is behind them all making it an invaluable substance for optimal health. Below is a condensed list of its primary functions and roles within the body.

Vitamin B1 Function

Energy Production and Distribution

Vitamin B1 thiamin shares similar functions as other B complex vitamins. It plays an integral part in maintaining the functions of the stomach, nerves, and muscles. But, one of its core tasks within the body is its role in producing energy. Thiamin aids the body in energy production by enabling carbohydrates as a source.

Facilitates Proper Digestion

Among all the other B-complex vitamins, vitamin B1 thiamin is most notable for its role in maintaining good digestive health. It aids the body in producing hydrochloric acid, a necessary substance in ensuring the proper breakdown and assimilation of food, and it also helps the body in attaining maximum nutrition while regulating our appetite for food.

In other words, thiamin may as well be one of the master controllers of the number of vitamins and nutrients we get every day. It works hands-on with the breakdown and distribution of energy in food; and once the body needs more, it prompts the body to eat by controlling our appetite.

Apart from its involvement in digestive processes, thiamin is also responsible for the intestine’s muscle tone as well as the overall condition of the stomach’s lining.

Maintains the Brain and Central Nervous System

Most of the B vitamins are involved in supporting our central nervous system, but only thiamin is directly related in the synthesis of acetylcholine. Thanks to its unique coenzyme form, the produced acetylcholine can help prevent nerve inflammation and memory loss. It is also critical in the prevention and repair of nerve function deterioration.

Vitamin B1 Deficiency

Our bodies pay a hefty price when faced with a lack of vitamin B1. It can cause a variety of health issues from mild and curable conditions to serious, life-threatening diseases. Although certain factors such as HIV/AIDS and diabetes may increase the risk of vitamin B1 deficiency, it is more often considered to be a lifestyle disease.

Those who do not practice healthy lifestyle habits and those without a vitamin B1-rich diet pose a risk towards their overall health. Alcohol-dependent individuals are also the number one prospects of vitamin B1 deficiency.

Vitamin B1 Deficiency Symptoms

Some of the earliest and most common symptoms of vitamin B1 deficiency are weight loss, lethargy, irritability, loss of sleep and appetite, loss of memory, as well as digestive issues like indigestion or constipation. Calf muscle tenderness, muscle cramps, and muscle atrophy are also initial signs of vitamin B1 deficiency.

Although these symptoms may vary from person to person and are dependent on other factors as well, these symptoms can progress into health problems that can significantly affect the quality of one’s life such as:

Brain Abnormalities

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a brain disorder that affects vitamin B1 deficient alcoholics. Difficulty in walking, haziness, involuntary eye movements and even partial paralysis of the eye are some of the initial signs of the Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. In severe cases, symptoms may progress and may lead to loss of memory and incoherence. Without immediate medical assistance and proper vitamin B1 supplementation, symptoms may become fatal.

Wet Beriberi and Dry Beriberi

Beriberi is a disease that is commonly caused by severe thiamin deficiency. There are two types of said disease: wet beriberi and dry beriberi. Both types could lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome as well, especially for alcohol-dependent individuals. In addition, those with beriberi may also experience the following conditions:

Wet beriberi targets the heart and the body’s circulatory system. Some of its most common symptoms include fluid retention in the legs as well as pulmonary edema, a condition caused by excess fluid in the lungs.

Individuals with wet beriberi also have an abnormally faster heartbeat, putting them at a higher risk for heart failure and other heart-related disorders. Hypotension is also quite common among those with wet beriberi, making them vulnerable to strokes, kidney failures, and even fatal heart attacks.

Meanwhile, dry beriberi is a condition that involves muscle and nerve abnormalities. The symptoms are usually more apparent in the legs. Conditions such as leg cramps and atrophy are common indicators of dry beriberi. Feeling a prickling sensation in the toes or a burning sensation in the feet during the night are also common traits of dry beriberi.

Infantile Beriberi

This type of beriberi affects newborn babies of women with thiamine deficiency during and after pregnancy. Infantile beriberi is commonly contracted from the mother’s milk. Newborns with this condition may experience a loss of reflexes, heart failure and aphonia – a condition where the larynx or the mouth is damaged, resulting in the inability to speak.

You can get vitamin b1 from your diet alone, but supplements can help.

Vitamin B1 Benefits

Protects Nerves

Vitamin B1 deficiency disorders reveal that thiamin has a great impact on the body’s nervous system. A lack of thiamin may result in the degeneration and malfunction of the nerves. Alternatively, a healthy dose of thiamin is said to be beneficial for the nerves – particularly as a support in the proper development of myelin sheaths around them. Without the help of these myelin coverings, our nerves are prone to damage and may even lead to death.

Prevents Heart Disease

One of the many roles of thiamin within the body is in the production of the chemical neurotransmitter acetylcholine which is required to relay messages between muscles and nerves. This chemical is also needed in ensuring proper cardiac health. Without the support of vitamin B1, both the heat and the nerves are affected.

Additionally, records show that patients with congestive heart failure respond well to vitamin B1 supplementation. When given vitamin B1 intravenously, conditions of such patients have significantly improved within the course of seven days.

Prevents Alzheimer’s

Although not a permanent cure, vitamin B1 is said to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. A study by Gary E. Gibson recalls the numerous similarities of vitamin B1 deficiency and Alzheimer’s such as their impact in the body’s cognitive problems as well as a decrease in brain glucose metabolism. The research also states that a daily 100 mg dosage of vitamin B1 provided significant relief for those with Alzheimer’s.

Improves Memory

As mentioned earlier, thiamin plays an integral role in maintaining the well-being of our nervous system. One of its notable benefits involves the improvement of one’s memory and concentration. In fact, some have named it the “morale vitamin” due to its positive effect on the nervous system. Apart from promoting better nerve health, it is also used in addressing various nervous disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Bell’s palsy.

Alleviates Effects of Alcoholism

There is a strong link between vitamin B1 and alcoholism. As we’ve learned earlier, alcohol-dependent individuals are in danger with their health, especially for those without enough vitamin B1 in their system. A proper dose of vitamin B1 can prevent deficiencies caused by alcoholism such as hyperthyroidism and cirrhosis.

Has Anti-Aging Properties

Surprisingly, vitamin B1 thiamin is also a powerful antioxidant. It effectively prevents the body from showing common signs of aging such as age spots and wrinkles. It also helps in slowing down the progression of other age-related conditions that may affect the body organs.

Vitamin B1 Side Effects

A well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet is highly recommended for the body to attain its much-needed vitamins. Food such as beef, pork, liver, milk, and nuts are great sources of thiamin. There are also many food choices that are fortified with vitamin B1 such as pasta, rice, and cereal. Unfortunately, a lot of these choices may be blacklisted for those with specific dietary restrictions.

Luckily, vitamin B1 supplements are readily available in the form of pills or tablets. However, there are a few side effects that may occur due to thiamine intake. Below is a list of possible vitamin B1 side effects:

  • Warmth and sweating
  • Restlessness or fatigue
  • Itching, hives, and swelling of the skin – skin discoloration may also be visible
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Pulmonary edema (or excessive fluid in the lungs)
  • Severe allergic reaction (or anaphylaxis)

Vitamin B1: A Mosquito Repellent?

Did you know that apart from keeping the body in good shape, vitamin B1 may also help in warding off mosquitoes? According to research, high doses of thiamine can help reduce the number of mosquito bites. This may come in handy during hotter seasons or when traveling to a tropical destination. It is also a less harmful option in comparison to repellents that contain harmful chemicals.

Vitamin B1 thiamin works by masking natural human odors that lure in mosquitoes. It seems that when vitamin B1 is secreted by the skin, mosquitos are no longer attracted. However, to use vitamin B1 as a mosquito repellent would require a higher dosage. A regular vitamin B1 supplement may not suffice to achieve your goal.

A vitamin B1 supplement would contain just enough amount of thiamin for the day. As we’ve learned earlier, thiamin is a water-soluble vitamin. Your body does not store excess, and it excretes the excess instead.

Having an excess of vitamin B1 is the way to go if you want to use it as a natural mosquito repellent. The excess in vitamin B1 isn’t flushed away from your system just by the form of urine. A portion of it is also excreted through the skin, and this changes the way you smell to mosquitoes.

Although vitamin B1 proves to be an effective mosquito repellent, it is still recommended to lather regular mosquito repellent when going to areas that may be infested with mosquitoes.


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