Thiamine Deficiency

Thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin necessary for the production of energy in cells. It also helps form red blood cells and maintain healthy nerve function. Thiamine deficiency can cause serious health issues like anemia, difficulty breathing, confusion, or seizures.

Thiamine deficiency is a rare condition that can cause several symptoms, including irritability, confusion, and loss of appetite. Thiamine deficiency can be caused by dieting or alcoholism. There are two types of thiamine deficiency: Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and beriberi. The treatment for thiamine deficiency is to consume thiamine supplements and foods rich in thiamine, such as whole grains, legumes, and meat.


Vitamin B1, commonly known as thiamine, is a coenzyme that the body uses to digest food for energy and keep heart and nerve functions in good shape. Thiamine plays a crucial function in helping us digest and obtain energy from our diet by converting nutrients into adenosine triphosphate, which we may utilize (ATP). As a result, thiamine deficiency is something you should avoid at all costs.

What happens if you don’t receive enough B1? The molecules contained in carbohydrates and proteins (in the form of branched-chain amino acids) cannot be efficiently utilized by the body if thiamine levels are insufficient.

What are some of the signs and symptoms of B1 deficiency? Weakness, persistent weariness, cardiac difficulties, psychosis, and nerve damage are among symptoms of thiamine deficiency (commonly known as beriberi). Eating complete foods rich in B vitamins, especially thiamine foods, is the greatest method to avoid thiamine insufficiency. Many typical foods contain thiamine, including whole grains, beans, nuts, nutritional yeast, organ meats, liver, and other meats. It’s also included in many vitamin B complex supplement formulations, which is excellent news for thiamine deficiency prevention.

What Is Thiamine and What Does It Do?

Thiamine (vitamin B1) is a water-soluble vitamin found in virtually all of the body’s cells. It is particularly beneficial for maintaining energy levels and a healthy metabolism. Thiamine is a sulfur-containing derivative of the amino acids thiazole and pyrimidine. It is utilized in conjunction with other B vitamins to control essential activities of the circulatory, endocrine, and digestive systems, forming the “B vitamin complex.”

Because the human body is incapable of producing thiamine, we must get it from our food to avoid thiamine shortage. So what is the sickness induced by thiamine deficiency? A thiamine shortage may lead to beriberi, a disease that has been recognized in undernourished people for thousands of years. Beriberi may cause muscle loss and serious cardiovascular issues, such as an enlarged heart.

In Western, industrialized countries, thiamine deficiency is uncommon. Therefore, most persons are thought to satisfy their daily thiamine need, and some adults may acquire much more than their recommended daily consumption with supplementation.

Today, we most typically find thiamine deficiency among alcoholics in affluent countries like the United States, which is known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Why do so many alcoholics become deficient in thiamine? Chronic alcohol drinking might result in insufficient nutritional thiamine intake, reduced thiamine absorption from the gastrointestinal tract, and impaired thiamine utilization by cells. In addition to drinking a lot of alcohol, most alcoholics report not eating much food, which is a major contributor to thiamine deficiency symptoms.

Symptoms of Thiamine Deficiency

What are the signs and symptoms of thiamine deficiency? Symptoms of clinical thiamine deficiency (or beriberi symptoms) include:

  • Rapid weight reduction
  • Appetite problems
  • Colitis
  • Consistent gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea
  • Damage to the nerves
  • Feet are burning (particularly severe at night)
  • Inflammation of the nerves (neuritis)
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Short-term memory decline
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Muscular atrophy, cramps, leg aches, and stiffness
  • Apathy or sadness
  • Effects on the cardiovascular system, such as an enlarged heart

What happens if your body doesn’t have enough thiamine? Thiamine deficiency affects your brain, heart, and other tissues and organs. For example, thiamine is present in high amounts in skeletal muscles and the heart, liver, kidneys, and brain. In addition, degeneration of peripheral nerves and portions of the brain, such as the thalamus and cerebellum, is caused by thiamin insufficiency. Deficiency may also reduce blood flow, vascular resistance, edema, and dilated hearts.


What causes thiamine deficiency? It’s thought that persons with the following conditions/diseases may not be able to absorb thiamine properly:

  • Problems with the liver
  • Alcoholism
  • Anorexia and other malnutrition-causing eating disorders
  • Inadequate food intake, chronic illnesses, the use of various drugs, and low thiamine absorption are all factors that contribute to an older age.
  • Taking drugs that are known to interfere with thiamine absorption
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as persistent diarrhea and vomiting
  • Diabetes seems to promote thiamine clearance by the kidneys.
  • Having had bariatric surgery, which may result in undereating and nutrient absorption issues
  • A poor diet deficient in vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and seeds.
  • Fever, hard exercise and other “stressful” demands on the body are all examples of “stressful” demands on the body.
  • Consumption of foods that may obstruct thiamine absorption at a high level (including raw seafood, tea, and coffee)
  • Pregnancy, which raises the requirement for all B vitamins, is a possibility (and most other nutrients)

Tannins in coffee and tea may react with thiamine, causing it to be converted into a difficult form for the body to absorb. This might result in digestive issues and a thiamine deficit. This is an uncommon occurrence in Western nations, and it is thought to occur only when someone consumes a substantial quantity of caffeine, resulting in caffeine overdose. Unless someone’s diet is very low in both thiamine and vitamin C, most studies feel the interaction between coffee and tea and thiamine is likely nothing to be concerned about. This is because vitamin C seems to inhibit thiamine from reacting with the tannins found in coffee and tea.

According to research, raw freshwater fish and shellfish have also been shown to have compounds that degrade thiamine. This has been seen in persons who consume a lot of raw seafood, but it does not occur in those who consume cooked fish and seafood.

According to certain studies, some nuts called areca (betel) nuts might alter thiamine’s chemical structure, making it less effective. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough information out there right now to say how thiamine interacts with other drugs, so if you take any medications, speak to your doctor before taking a supplement.

Benefits of Vitamin B1

Why is thiamine beneficial to your health? The following are the most important advantages of vitamin B1/thiamine:

1. Promotes a Balanced Metabolism

Thiamine is required to produce ATP, the body’s primary energy carrier molecule, in the mitochondria of cells. It aids in converting carbohydrates to glucose, which is the body’s main energy source for keeping your metabolism working properly. Thiamine also aids in the digestion of proteins and lipids.

The coenzymatic form of thiamine is known to have a role in two kinds of metabolic processes in the body: decarboxylation and transketolation. Thiamine is carried in the blood and plasma after being consumed, and it is subsequently utilized by cells to produce energy.

Thiamine is also necessary to create red blood cells, which provide continuous energy. Because thiamine and other B vitamins are natural energy boosters and are necessary to create ATD from meals, B vitamin complex pills are often marketed as “energy boosters” or “healthy metabolism” supplements. Patients are occasionally given thiamine as a supplement to help address metabolic problems linked with hereditary illnesses.

2. Protects nerves from harm

We may suffer nerve damage if our diets do not provide enough “fuel” for our neurological systems to operate properly. This can result in difficulty moving, learning, and retaining information. Thiamine is required to convert carbs from our meals, and carbohydrates are primarily used to supply energy to the body, particularly the brain and neurological system. In addition, thiamine is required for a set of enzyme activities known as pyruvate dehydrogenase, which oxidizes the glucose we ingest.

Thiamine also aids in the formation of myelin sheaths, which wrap around nerves to protect them from injury and death.

3. Aids in the maintenance of a healthy cardiovascular system

Thiamine is required for the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the body. This is utilized for communicating between nerves and muscles, with our heart being one of the most important muscles that rely on these vital signals.

The nerves and muscles must employ physiological energy to keep communicating with each other to sustain adequate cardiac function and good heartbeat rhythms. Thiamine has been found in recent research to be beneficial in the battle against heart disease since it aids in the maintenance of good ventricular function and treats heart failure.

4. Strengthens the immune system

Thiamine aids in the maintenance of muscle tone along the walls of the digestive tract, which houses a large portion of the immune system. Because a healthy digestive system assists your body to collect nutrients from meals more efficiently, which are utilized to improve immunity and protect you from being ill, digestive health is vital for thiamine absorption. In addition, thiamine aids in the production of hydrochloric acid, which is necessary for proper food digestion and nutritional absorption.

5. Aids in the treatment of alcoholism

Thiamine reduces the likelihood of developing Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a kind of brain abnormality (WKS). Involuntary muscular movement, nerve damage, tiredness, and difficulty walking are among WKS signs. This brain condition is linked to low thiamine levels and is common among alcoholics, particularly those with poor diets. Alcohol reduces the capacity of the body to absorb thiamine from meals.

Thiamine insufficiency affects anywhere from 30% to 80% of alcoholics. In addition, high dosages of thiamine have been demonstrated to aid with alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

6. Assists in the prevention of brain disorders

Thiamine aids in the communication between the brain and the rest of the body. It may aid in preventing cerebellar syndrome, a kind of brain injury. High doses of thiamine are occasionally given to patients to avoid specific memory impairments that are typical in thiamine-deficient persons, such as those going through alcohol withdrawal or recovering from a coma. It has also been related to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

7. It Improves Learning

Thiamine is an important vitamin for improving attention, energy, avoiding memory loss, and combating chronic stress. Thiamine deficiency has been related to difficulties learning and remembering information in studies. However, according to research from the United Kingdom, thiamine promoted speedy response times and feelings of clarity in individuals taking examinations.

8. Maintains a Positive Attitude

Thiamine boosts the body’s stress resistance, which is why B vitamins are frequently referred to as “anti-stress” vitamins. A lack of energy might lead to low motivation and mood. Because of its beneficial effects on the brain, thiamine improves mood and protects against sadness and anxiety.

It may reduce inflammation and aid in the maintenance of healthy brain function, which is essential for decision-making. In addition, controlling stress and anxiety while also enhancing your mood requires healthy nerve activity.

9. Assists in the prevention of vision problems

According to some studies, thiamine may help protect against visual issues, including cataracts and glaucoma. This is because it can affect nerve and muscle transmission, which is critical for transferring information from the eyes to the brain.

Foods High in Thiamine

What foods have thiamine in them? The following foods are high in thiamine/vitamin B1 (percentages are based on an adult RDA of 1.2 milligrams per day):

  1. 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast: 9.6 milligrams (640 percent DV)
  2. Spirulina (seaweed) contains 2.66 milligrams per cup (216 percent DV)
  3. Sunflower Seeds — 2 milligrams per cup (164 percent DV)
  4. 1 cup macadamia nuts equal 1.6 milligrams (132 percent DV)
  5. 0.58 milligrams black beans, 1/3 cup dry or roughly 1 cup cooked (48 percent DV)
  6. 0.53 milligrams lentils, 1/3 cup dry or around 1 cup cooked (44 percent DV)
  7. 0.53 milligrams organic edamame/soybeans — 1/3 cup dry, or roughly 1 cup cooked (44 percent DV)
  8. 0.53 milligrams navy beans, 1/3 cup dry or roughly 1 cup cooked (44 percent DV)
  9. 0.53 milligrams white beans, 1/3 cup dry or 1 cup cooked (44 percent DV)
  10. 0.48 milligrams green split peas, 1/3 cup dry or around 1 cup cooked (40 percent DV)
  11. 0.46 mg pinto beans, 1/3 cup dry or roughly 1 cup cooked (39 percent DV)
  12. Mung Beans — 0.42 milligrams per 1/3 cup dry or 1 cup cooked (36 percent DV)
  13. 1 3 oz. cooked beef liver: 0.32 milligrams (26 percent DV)
  14. 1 cup cooked asparagus: 0.3 milligrams (25 percent DV)
  15. 1 cup cooked Brussels sprouts: 0.16 milligram (13 percent DV)

Dosage and Supplements

How much thiamine do you need daily? According to the USDA, the RDA for adults is 1.2 milligrams per day for males and 1.1 milligrams per day for women. Therefore, humans need a minimum of 0.33 milligrams of thiamine per 1,000 calories consumed per day to avoid insufficiency.

When it comes to vitamins and minerals, it’s ideal for getting them through whole foods rather than supplements whenever feasible. According to research, thiamine deficiency is not widespread thus, supplementing with additional thiamine is not essential for the ordinary individual.

Supplements containing Vitamin B1 are often found in Vitamin B complexes. In addition, vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin/niacinamide), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and other vitamins that work together to build energy via good food absorption are included in most complex supplements.

If you’re going to take a thiamine supplement, be sure it’s a high-quality product manufactured from actual food sources. According to the USDA, the RDA for vitamin B1 (thiamine) supplementation is as follows:

  • 0.2 mg for babies aged 0–6 months; 0.3 mg for infants aged 7–12 months
  • Children aged 1–3 years get 0.5 mg, children aged 4–8 years receive 0.6 mg, and children aged 9–13 years receive 0.9 mg.
  • 1.2 mg for adult males
  • 1.1 mg for adult females
  • 1.4–1.5 mg for pregnant and nursing women

The normal amount for severe thiamine shortage is 300 milligrams per day; however, specialists only recommend this and utilize it in certain instances. To avoid problems, people with thiamine deficiency are given high dosages of the vitamin. Neuropathy may be treated with up to 10 to 30 milligrams per day, edema and cardiovascular problems can be treated with 100 milligrams by IV once a day for many days, and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome can be treated with 50 to 100 milligrams via IV.

A daily dietary intake of roughly 10 milligrams of thiamine is suggested to reduce the incidence of cataracts.

How to Boost Intake

Various beans, nuts, seeds, seaweed (or spirulina powder), and yeast — notably “nutritional yeast,” a condiment widely used by vegetarians that naturally tastes like cheese — are the greatest dietary sources of thiamine. Smaller levels may be found in certain meats and organs, such as liver and entire grains like oats and barley.

Most whole-grain and enhanced grain products contain thiamine, such as bread, pasta, rice, and fortified cereal grains. These meals are thiamine-enhanced, which means that thiamine is synthetically added to the diet.

While some of these foods naturally contain thiamine in its full, unprocessed state, many of the natural vitamins in these foods are lost during the refining process and must be put back in. The adjectives “enriched” or “fortified” are often used in goods when thiamine is synthetically added to the diet. Whole foods like nuts, beans, and seeds, unlike processed meals, naturally contain a high quantity of thiamine.

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan (you don’t eat animals), what’s a decent source of thiamine? Although certain fruits and vegetables, such as peas and tomatoes, may contain low to moderate quantities of thiamine, most do not. Other types, such as asparagus, potatoes, mushrooms, romaine lettuce, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and eggplant, include tiny levels of B vitamins like thiamine, ensuring that you receive a healthy dosage when you eat a lot of them. If you don’t consume meat or organ meats, the easiest method to obtain enough thiamine is to eat yeast, sea vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans/legumes daily (I suggest soaking or sprouting them first).

Try include items that are naturally rich in thiamine in your diet in the following ways to help boost your thiamine intake:

  • Serve a salad of leafy greens with beans, nuts, and seeds on the side.
  • Make a tangy bean salad or a pea salad.
  • Add dried seaweed or other marine veggies to homemade miso soup.
  • Make a pan of Black Bean Brownies.
  • Make a split pea soup, a bean-based chili, or a bean-based soup.
  • Sunflower seed butter and berries go well with steel-cut oats.

Side Effects and Risks

Is it possible to have too much vitamin B1? Is thiamine, in other words, harmful in large doses?

There have only been a few proven examples of extremely significant ill effects from consuming too much thiamine thus far. Because thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin, there is little risk of ingesting too much at once. It is estimated that only a tiny fraction of a large thiamine dosage is really absorbed by the body.

After a few hours, the vitamin is excreted in the urine due to high amounts that the body does not need. Extra vitamin B1 in the form of a supplement will not harm the body, but it is also not one of the most important nutrients to acquire in supplement form.

Last Thoughts

  • Thiamine (vitamin B1) is a water-soluble vitamin that helps maintain energy levels, cognitive function, heart health, and a healthy metabolism.
  • What happens if you don’t get enough thiamine? Because thiamine is found in all cells of the body, thiamine shortage impacts all organ systems, particularly nerve and heart cells. Inadequate thiamine intake may cause cardiovascular difficulties, cognitive issues, weariness, nerve damage, muscular weakness, and interfere with the body’s oxidative stress defenses.
  • Alcoholics, anorexics, those with liver injury or illness, and people who consume too few calories or eat many processed/refined foods are all at risk of developing a thiamine deficiency.
  • What is the maximum amount of B1 you can consume in a day? Thiamine is indicated for adults at 1.2 mg per day for males and 1.1 mg per day for women. Most individuals who eat adequate calories obtain enough calories from their meals and don’t need to supplement.
  • Is it possible to take too much thiamine? Because thiamine is water-soluble, excess quantities are excreted in the urine. Extra vitamin B1 in the form of a supplement will not harm the body, but it isn’t always or typically good.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main cause of thiamine deficiency?

A: The main cause of thiamine deficiency is the lack of dietary intake. Thiamine can be found in food sources such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables.

How is thiamine deficiency treated?

A: If a person with thiamine deficiency is not treated, they will eventually die. Thiamine deficiency can be treated using high doses of the vitamin or by giving intravenous tetrahydrofolic acid.

Related Tags

  • Drugs that cause thiamine deficiency
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