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The Vitamin ABCs: Vitamin B1

Continuing our Vitamin ABCs series, today we’re looking in closer detail at vitamin B1, why you need it, what effects it has on the body, where you can get it in your diet and more. Click here to read the rest of our Vitamin ABCs.

What is vitamin B1?

Vitamin B1 was the first vitamin discovered by scientists, hence the name with the number 1. More commonly known as thiamine, it is an essential nutrient that enables the body to easily use food, particularly carbohydrates, as energy. The human body does not store vitamin B1, therefore we need a constant supply of it from our daily diet.

Where to find vitamin B1

Thiamine is usually found in vitamin B “complexes” – this means that it is contained in food sources in combination with other B vitamins such as riboflavin (vitamin B2), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) and others. Foods that naturally contain good levels of vitamin B1 include:

  • Yeast
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Meat, particularly pork, beef and liver
  • Eggs
  • Oats
  • Oranges
  • Legumes

Many foods are also fortified and enriched with thiamine. Stats say that in the United States, most people consume around half of their thiamine intake daily from foods that have the nutrient occurring naturally; the rest comes from those fortified with vitamin B1 which include:

  • Rice
  • Cereal and grains
  • Pasta
  • Breads
  • Flour

For those who need sources of vitamin B1 additional to their every day diet, supplements of vitamin B1 are available, and thiamine is also contained in most multivitamins.

What levels to aim for

Deficiency in vitamin B1 is generally a rare condition in adults who have a healthy and varied diet, particularly if they’re also taking multivitamin supplements.

The recommended daily allowance of thiamine is 1.2mg for males and 1.1 mg for females. It’s worth noting that breastfeeding women are recommended to consume and additional 0.3mg of thiamine.

Effects on the body

Vitamin B1 is vital for the body to function properly. In addition to providing the necessary energy we need through converting food and carbohydrates, thiamine also has the following benefits:

  • Allowing the flow of electrolytes into and out of muscle cells.
  • Safeguarding the nerves.
  • Acting as a powerful antioxidant, providing anti-aging qualities.
  • Stimulating digestion.
  • Enhancing concentration, brain power and memory.
  • Improving immunity.
  • Preventing eye problems.
  • Studies have also shown that it can help protect against or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

The main cause for deficiency in vitamin B1 is alcoholism. As such, supplements can be used to treat those with severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Other conditions that may impact thiamine levels include anorexia and Crohn’s disease.

The resulting deficiency in thiamine can cause negative effects on the nervous system, heart and brain. Symptoms include weight loss, loss of appetite, confusion, short term memory loss and muscle weakness. Two major health problems can occur from deficiency: beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. These can in turn affect everything from breathing, heart function and eye health to muscle coordination and nervous system impairments.

In terms of treating conditions, thiamine can be used for metabolic disorders, digestive problems, AIDS (specifically boosting the immune system), heart disease, vision problems including glaucoma, and heart disease.


 

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