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VITAMIN B1 (Thiamine)


Vitamin B1 is required for the metabolism of carbohydrates and helps fuel the body by converting blood sugar into energy. It also keeps mucous membranes healthy and is essential for the nervous system, cardiovascular and muscular function and enhances circulation and helps with blood formation. It is also required for the biosynthesis of a number of cell constituents, including the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and gamma-aminobutyric acid. It is used in the manufacture of hydrochloric acid and therefore plays a part in digestion.

It is also used by the brain and may help with depression and assist with memory and learning and is known as the “anti-stress” vitamin because it helps to strengthen the immune system and improve the body’s ability to withstand stressful conditions. In children it is required for growth and has shown some indication to assist in treating arthritis, cataracts as well as infertility.

Consuming foods rich in vitamin B1 can help to repel mosquitoes as it changes the body's scent.


Deficiency of vitamin B1


Deficiency has been linked to severe mental illness. Beriberi is the vitamin deficiency disease in which the body does not have enough vitamin B1 (thiamine). Beriberi literally means "I can't, I can't" in Singhalese, which reflects the crippling effect it has on those that are deficient. Thiamine serves as a coenzyme in the chemical pathway responsible for the metabolism of carbohydrates.


Excessive drinking is known for causing a serious deficiency in vitamin B1 which is found mainly in whole or enriched grains, beans and seeds. Alcohol appears to reduce its absorption, increase its requirements and impede its conversion to the active form. Adequate thiamine is crucial for carbohydrate metabolism and the formation of ATP, the body’s energy currency. The deficiency disease, which affects the nervous system and the heart, is called beri-beri. Chronic alcoholism can result in a severe form of beri-beri called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a form of psychosis accompanied by memory loss and brain shrinkage.


Persons may become deficient in vitamin B1 either by not ingesting enough in the diet or if the following conditions are present:

Coffee has a mild diuretic effect, which increases urination and water soluble vitamins, such as the B vitamins, can be depleted as a result of this fluid loss. In addition, it also interferes with the metabolism of some B vitamins, such as vitamin B1. Prolonged diarrhoea, drinking excessive alcohol and liver disease impairs the body's ability to absorb vitamin B1. Athletes, dancers and others involve in extreme physical activities may become deficient in vitamin B1 due to excessive perspiration and fluid loss.

See Performers and Sports Nutrition

Symptoms of vitamin B1 deficiency

A deficiency of vitamin B1 can also lead to an accumulation of lactic acid which can cause muscle cramps for athletes competing in endurance events.

Swelling of bodily tissues (oedema) is a common symptom of vitamin B1 deficiency. For natural ways to treat this see Water retention


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Highest sources of vitamin B1 in milligrams per 100 grams

  • Yeast extract 23.38 mg

  • Brewer’s yeast 11 mg

  • Rice bran 2.75 mg

  • Wheat germ 1.88 mg

  • Sunflower seeds 1.48 mg

  • Coriander leaves 1.25 mg

  • Pine nuts 1.24 mg

  • Sesame seeds 1.21 mg

  • Pork 1.12 mg

  • Peanuts 0.85 mg

  • Soya beans0.83 mg

  • Macadamia nuts 0.71 mg

  • Trout 0.43 mg

  • Chicken livers 0.38 mg

  • Peas 0.28 mg

  • Salmon 0.26 mg

  • Navy beans 0.24 mg

  • Squash 0.17 mg

  • Brown rice 0.16 mg

  • Asparagus 0.16 mg

  • Nori seaweed 0.5 mg

  • Sprouted beans 0.4 mg

  • Shiitake mushrooms 0.3 mg

  • Asparagus, globe artichoke 0.2 mg

  • Beetroot greens, okra, spinach, watercress 0.1 mg

NOTE: Vitamin B1 levels in foods are radically reduced by heat. Check labels of Brewer's yeast as some products do not contain vitamin B1.

Associated conditions

Vitamin B1 toxicity

Vitamin B1 is excreted mainly in the urine and after taking just 5 mg, there is a sudden decrease in absorption by the body which is why there are rarely any reports of vitamin B1 toxicity. However, supplements are not advised, unless blood tests show a deficiency, as it can build up in the body and cause dizziness, dry and itchy skin, an upset stomach and nausea symptoms similar to an allergic reaction.

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