Thiamine (Vitamin B1)

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Thiamin, thiamine or vitamin B1 was the first of the important B vitamins to be discovered, back in the 30s. It is an essential vitamin – it cannot be made by the body and is not stored either, so must be ingested daily as part of the diet.  It contains sulphur which is critical for its biological functioning and is water soluble.

What Is Thiamin?

 Thiamin is a water-soluble vitamin. Its chemical structure is a thiazole with a pyrimidine ring connected together by a methylene group.

In huymans, thiamin is phosphorylated and is found various forms: thiamin monophosphate (TMP), thiamin diphosphate (TDP, called also thiamin pyrophosphate) and thiamin triphosphate (TTP). It occurs as well in its non‐phosphorylated form usually called ‘free thiamin’.


Generally present in most foods albeit in small amounts. Brewer’s yeast is one of the best sources as is liver and meat flesh especially from pork, fish such as tuna, bread and cereals – especially whole grain, eggs, vegetables like onions and broccoli, dried legumes, potatoes, pulses and nuts.

Health Benefits Of Thiamin

Thiamine acts as a coenzyme – a molecule that helps activate enzymes involved in metabolism and other biochemical processes in the cell. Its essential role is:-

♦ Generation of energy molecules from food

♦ DNA and RNA synthesis

♦ Nerve conduction

The European Food safety Authority (EFSA) which assists the European Community with regulatory advice as has stated specific health benefits and claims for this vitamin which are:-

  • -required for normal functioning of the heart;
  • -required for metabolism of carbohydrates;
  • -needed for energy-generation from foods based on carbohydrate breakdown;
  • -required for normal neurological development and function;
  • -normal neural and muscle tissue functioning.

Recommended Daily Intakes

♦ the level of thiamin required depends on the level of metabolism of the person.

In the USA, for adults, an average intake of at least 1 mg to 1.2 mg per day for men and 0.8 to 1.1 mg per day for women is recommended based on an average caloric intake. Pregnant women or those who are breastfeeding of any age should take 1.4 mg daily.

Generally, the intake in the Western world meets these national recommendations. It cannot be stored by the body and must be taken in the diet every day. Poor nutrition linked to poverty can lead to reduced levels of intake in the elderly in particular. A lack of thiamine means carbohydrates are not metabolised properly. This leads to stresses on the heart, loss of mental abilities and alertness, and problems with breathing. Supplementation to a maximum level of 100mg per day is OK but too much might be harmful, although it is not clear what health issues there are.

Reduction Of Risks For Diseases

A lack of thiamine leads to beri-beri which is extremely rare except in those nations where nutrition is poor overall. A lack of thiamin in the case causes problems in the peripheral nerve system and produces wasting. A further development is extreme weight loss and anorexia.

A deficiency often produces mental issues which includes loss of short-term memory and confusion. The muscles also weaken and cardiovascular conditions develop such as an enlarged heart. 

Beri-Beri was seen in those countries where rice was a staple but the outer layers which contain the vitamin were stripped from the pericarp i.e. polished. Hence the importance of eating whole grains where thiamine is retained in the outer layers.

Alcoholism & Brain Functioning

♦ treatment with vitamin B1 supplementation can help alleviate some brain malfunctioning especially in those suffering from excessive alcohol consumption. It has been suggested as a useful vitamin for the day after, those suffering hangovers.

Alzheimer’s Disease

♦ linked in some studies to lessening the impact of this disease.

Eye Disease

♦ thiamine, other B vitamins like B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cobalamin) and vitamin A can help reduce loss of vision by protecting the eye’s lens. This is by lessening the development of cataracts.

Processing Effects On Thiamin

It is a heat sensitive vitamin. Conventional cooking and microwaving reduces this vitamin content by 20 to 50% depending on the degree of heating. Being water soluble, it is also lost in any cooking water.

In beverages, it imparts a slightly meaty yeasty note and needs to be disguised if possible because of the way it alters sensory perception.


Any foods that absorb thiamin can cause issues. tea and coffee contain tannins which bind or interact with thiamine is a way which prevents absorption by the gut.

Raw shellfish and fish contain chemicals.

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1 Comment

  1. The tablets taste horrible if you cannot swallow them whole. I usually have to take them with a slice of bread or a biscuit. However they are great at reducing mosquito bites when I was in Thailand. I only got bitten once in 21 days and my boyfriend was only bitten twice as they usually make a meal from him. Worth it for that alone and I reckon anybody else should take them for this alone.

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