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The Complete Guide On Vitamin B1 (It’s More Important Than You Think)

Craig Leonard September 6, 2014
Vitamin B1

As I continue today with my series on micronutrients, by breaking down the essential elements you need to know about vitamin B1, it appears that a preemptive explanation is in order.

I can always trust my wife to give it to me straight (it’s just one of the many things I love about her).  This morning she gently let me know that my first article in this series dedicated to vitamin A was a little difficult to follow. She explained that there were a few long, foreign-sounding words that were used often, making it tough to continue reading all the way to the end.

This comment didn’t really catch me by surprise. As I was writing it, I knew that particular article might be liable to bore those who weren’t heavily interested in diving down deep into the doldrums of vitamin A.

Unfortunately, it was necessary for me to use all the information at my disposal – no matter how foreign it may have been – in order for you to truly appreciate the known world of vitamin A in all of its intricacies.

Fortunately, I anticipate my posting on vitamin A to be one of the most technical in this series. All of this is simply to ensure that I haven’t dampened your interest to the point that you’re tempted to ignore this posting on vitamin B1 – or any future postings related to micronutrients, for that matter.

Today’s posting kicks off the first in what will be eight total posts dedicated to vitamin B.

I originally intended to write a single comprehensive article on vitamin B. But, as I began outlining everything I’d need to cover, I thought better of it and decided to break it up into a separate posting for each of the 8 individual vitamin B components:

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxene)
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin)
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
  • Vitamin B12

I’ll be running through these vitamin B components in sequential order, starting today with vitamin B1.

Vitamin B1 also goes by the name thiamin, so the two terms are interchangeable. I will be using the term vitamin B1 almost exclusively throughout this article, so I wanted you to be aware of its other name in case you come across it in a different forum.

Vitamin B1 is actually found in most foods, yet vitamin B1 deficiency still remains one of the most common forms of vitamin deficiency in the United States. This contradiction only makes sense once you understand that vitamin B1 is one of the most vulnerable vitamins to being destroyed as foods are cooked and processed, leaving virtually zero vitamin B1 to left in processed foods for the bodies of consumers to benefit from.

Since processed foods make up a majority of the calories in the average American’s diet, it isn’t that surprising, then, that Vitamin B1 deficiency is such a common condition.

This is just one of a litany of examples of how processed foods have most of their useful nutrition manufactured out of them. Virtually every essential vitamin and mineral our bodies require for optimal health is extracted out of processed foods during manufacturing to a large degree.

That said, few nutrients have more risk of loss during food processing than vitamin B1. It’s also prone to damage from heat and not entirely stable while in storage. To make matters worse, much of a food’s vitamin B1 content is usually cooked out of it.

In fact, conventional cooking methods and microwaving can be expected to reduce the vitamin B1 content of a given food by 20-50%.1

Processing losses and its sensitivity to heat makes vitamin B1 an easy nutrient to become deficient in when not eating a diet consisting of mainly whole foods. I’ll provide you with a list of the richest natural sources of vitamin B1 later on in this article. Next let’s look at the benefits that vitamin B1 provides us to give some weight to just how detrimental being deficient in vitamin B1 can be.

Health Benefits of Vitamin B1

Here’s a pretty little graphic to brighten your day before I go into a little greater detail on several of these vitamin B1 benefits (along with a few others) below:

Vitamin B1 Health Benefits

Vitamin B1 Aids Energy Production

Vitamin B1 is part of a complex enzyme system called the pyruvate dehydrogenase system, which is integral in the bodily process of oxidizing sugar (i.e. glucose) in the blood so it can be used for energy. This energy can be utilized as fuel for intense physical activity, but it also serves as a battery for less tangible processes like digestion, nutrient transport and cognitive function.

Adequate intake of vitamin B1 is required for this energy-creating system to operate optimally. If you find your training being hindered by a lack of energy, or experiencing brain fog, addressing a potential vitamin B1 deficiency should be a top priority for you (more on this to follow below).

Vitamin B1 Is Essential for Cardiovascular Health

Another crucial role of Vitamin B1 is its assistance in the production of the critical neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Neurotransmitters act as the transporters for the electrical signals that travel along the intricate system of nerves and neurons throughout the body. This network of interconnecting communication pathways are necessary for virtually every function taking place within our bodies at any given time.

When the body is lacking in acetylcholine our body’s ability to send signals will be compromised. The most important function this impacts is the functioning of the heart.

OrganicFacts.net reports a pretty powerful testament to the power that vitamin B1 holds in preventing heart disease and maintaining heart health:

“People suffering from congestive heart failure, when given vitamin B1 intravenously for seven days, showed considerable improvements in their echocardiograms, which proves that vitamin B1 can prevent heart disease (and improve heart health).” 2

Congestive heart failure describes the condition where the heart’s output has been eroded and is therefore no longer able to meet the body’s vital requirements for oxygen and nutrition to be received by its various tissues and organs. The first signs of this condition are typically shortness of breath and excessive fatigue.

When the body is deficient in vitamin B1 for prolonged durations, the neurons responsible for firing the pumping action of the heart become dulled, and the onset of congestive heart failure is the inevitable result. With one out of every four deaths in America currently being attributed to heart disease, making it a point to supply the body with sufficient levels of vitamin B1 can only be described as a “no-brainer”. 8

Vitamin B1 Contains Anti-Aging Properties

Vitamin B1 is an antioxidant, which means that it is an advocate in the fight against oxidative stress that can build within the body. Oxidation occurs when molecules within your body lose electrons to electrically-charged molecules of oxygen in your blood stream. In other words, vital cells within the body lose their ability to function as intended.

When left to accumulate, these mutated cells can give rise to a number of undesirable (and sometimes irreversible) conditions, including the proliferation of cancer.

Antioxidants like vitamin B1 work as microscopic bulldozers to remove these “damaged” cells – called free radicals – from the body.

Oxidation is a natural process and it’s one that we all deal with. However, in order to keep it from causing free radicals to rapidly accumulate, eventually wreaking havoc on our health, our body requires the regular intake of antioxidants to flush these free radicals out of the body before they reach critical mass.

As a viable source of antioxidants, vitamin B1 possesses the inherent ability to prevent wrinkles, mitigate age spots that can develop on the skin, keep you mentally sharp, fight a litany of age-related diseases and resist the onset of cancers.

Vitamin B1 Is Believed to Slow The Progression of Alzheimer’s

It’s still being debated whether or not vitamin B1 is a viable nutrient in the fight against Alzheimer’s. As far as I’m aware, no long-term credible study has been conducted that conclusively proves vitamin B1’s efficacy as an Alzheimer’s inhibitor.

Wikipedia shares this sentiment, claiming that there’s no evidence that vitamin B1 staves off Alzheimer’s progression. It’s only source for this claim, however,  is a study whose results were published in 2001, which was conducted over a very short period (12 months) and included fewer than 50 participants – and at least 10 participants didn’t even finish the study.

I don’t consider this sufficient to warrant dogmatically concluding that vitamin B1 is useless in fighting Alzheimer’s. That being said, one must admit that reputable evidence supporting vitamin B1’s ability to stymie the progression of Alzheimer’s is certainly lacking.

I have come across a couple of online sources crediting vitamin B1 with Alzheimer’s-preventing properties. For instance, howstuffworks.com has an article that claims vitamin B1 prevents the progression of Alzheimer’s, but it doesn’t provide a credible source to back up this claim.

Organicfacts.net also states that “vitamin B1 is thought to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. People suffering from this disease have benefited when treated with vitamin B1 supplements of 100 mg per day. There are placebo-controlled trial studies that are ongoing to determine more about the mechanism by which this occurs.”

Again, though, no examinable source is cited that could be used to verify the veracity of this claim. After a quick Google search, I found several other online publications claiming that such and such a study confirms that vitamin B1 prevents Alzheimer’s or dementia, but credible sources are – almost without exception – lacking.

WebMD does point out that patients are currently supplementing with vitamin B1 under the belief that it may help slow the further development of memory loss. Oftentimes, individuals using an implement are convinced of its usefulness well before the science finally validates it, and this may be what we’re seeing here.

Either way, I will continue to keep an ear to the ground and update this posting as new (and credible) information becomes available.

How much vitamin B1 do you need?

how-much-vitaminb1

The recommended “sweet spot” for vitamin B1 intake varies a little bit, depending on the source. In general, though, the recommended intakes of vitamin B1 hover around 1.0 milligrams per day for women and 1.5 milligrams per day for men.

If you’re eating a nutrient-rich diet consisting mostly of natural whole foods, you’ll likely be meeting your body’s need for vitamin B1 on most days without even giving it a second thought. If you’re not, however, you’re almost certainly deficient.

The good news is that minor vitamin B1 deficiencies won’t cause you much of an issue and will typically go unnoticed. Larger vitamin B1 deficiencies, on the other hand, can lead to serious problems.

Vitamin B1 Deficiency Risk and Symptoms

As mentioned at the outset of this article, because of America’s predominant reliance on processed foods, the populace is suffering from being deficient in a vast percentage of the vitamins and minerals that are essential for optimal health. Vitamin B1 is no exception.

It’s been estimated that nearly 20% of US residents over the age of 2 fail to reach their recommended amounts of dietary vitamin B1 each day. To make matters worse, if it weren’t for the “enrichment” of wheat flour in the United States—a procedure whereby nutrients destroyed during processing are added back into processed wheat—more than half of Americans would fail to reach the daily recommended intake of vitamin B1. 1

America’s heavy consumption of alcohol also contributes to its collective risk because vitamin B1 is lost during the detoxification process. As the liver works to filter the alcohol out of the bloodstream, vitamins and minerals are also lost in the process. This is one reason why alcoholics carry a much greater risk of developing any number of adverse health conditions.

Alcohol consumption also typically coincides with what can only be described as less than healthy dietary choices, which only perpetuates the problem further.

As it relates to the symptoms of being deficient in vitamin B1, there are several ways that a vitamin B1 deficiency may rear its ugly head.

“Some of the early symptoms of vitamin B1 deficiency include lethargy, irritability, loss of memory, loss of sleep or appetite, weight loss, indigestion, constipation and calf muscle tenderness. If left untreated, these initial symptoms can lead to a more severe form of vitamin B1 deficiency, known as beriberi. This condition is characterized by nerve, heart, and brain abnormalities, but the symptoms vary from person to person and depends on a number of factors.”

There are actually 3 distinct types of beriberi that are caused by vitamin B1 deficiency: Dry Beriberi, Wet Beriberi and Infantile Beriberi.

Dry beriberi is characterized by nerve and muscle abnormalities, a prickling sensation in the toes, burning sensations in the feet at night, leg cramps and muscle atrophy.

Wet beriberi symptoms can involve abnormally fast heart beating, retaining fluids in the legs (making them appear swollen), pulmonary edema, and hypotension (low blood pressure), which can be fatal.

As the name implies, infantile beriberi occurs in infants. This condition is usually found among infants whose mothers are vitamin B1 deficient during the prenatal and postnatal periods, as deficient mothers cannot pass the vitamin B1 they don’t have in their bodies on to their children through the umbilical cord (prenatal) or through breastfeeding (postnatal).

As with most adverse health conditions, vitamin B1 deficiencies are especially dangerous for infants. Vitamin B1 deficient infants can experience a loss in reflexes, the inability to produce sound through their vocal chords (a condition called aphonia), and can even experience heart failure.

This is why it’s especially important for pregnant and nursing mothers to make sure they’re ingesting adequate amounts of vitamin B1 on a daily basis as often as possible.

And don’t forget the obvious fact that not getting enough vitamin B1 in your diet will preclude you from reaping the benefits I described above.

The Best Sources of Vitamin B1

The most potent sources of vitamin B1 come in the form of whole foods. Big surprise, I know. 🙂

Raw seeds, legumes (beans and peas), fish and pork are among the most potent sources of vitamin B1 available in our food supply.

In order make sure you have the most comprehensive list of foods at your disposal to help you meet your vitamin B1 needs, I’ve taken the time to scour the web and compile a list of the best sources of vitamin B1, sorted by the percentage of a total daily value of 1.5mg each serving size provides.

Food

Serving

Size

Vitamin B1

Content

% DV of 1.5mg

Pork Loin 3 Oz. 0.87mg 58%
Pork Tenderloin 3 Oz. 0.86mg 57%
Pork Chops 3 Oz. 0.77mg 51%
Green Peas 1 Cup 0.45mg 30%
Navy Beans 1 Cup 0.44mg 29%
Pink Beans 1 Cup 0.44mg 29%
Sunflower Seeds 1 Oz. 0.42mg 28%
Black Beans 1 Cup 0.42mg 28%
Soy Beans 1 Cup 0.39mg 26%
Trout 3 Oz. 0.36mg 24%
Acorn Squash 1 Cup 0.35mg 23%
Sesame Seeds 1 Oz. 0.33mg 22%
Mung Beans 1 Cup 0.33mg 22%
Asparagus 1 Cup 0.30mg 20%
Salmon 3 Oz. 0.29mg 19%
Sweet Corn 1 Cup 0.29mg 19%
Tuna 3 Oz. 0.24mg 16%
Chia Seeds 1 Oz. 0.24mg 16%
Macadamia Nuts 1 Oz. 0.20mg 13%
Pistachios 1 Oz. 0.20mg 13%
Brazil Nuts 1 Oz. 0.18mg 12%
Hubbard Squash 1 Cup 0.15mg 10%
Butternut Squash 1 Cup 0.15mg 10%
Pecans 1 Oz. 0.14mg 9%
Cashews 1 Oz. 0.11mg 7%
Pumpkin Seeds 1 Oz. 0.08mg 5%

You don’t see any processed foods making the cut. But, in the interest of honesty, I would like to disclose that whole wheat bread and a number of different cereals do contain enough vitamin B1 per serving to be included on the list above.

That said, I’ve taken the liberty of intentionally leaving these items off of my list because of the inherent health dangers associated with consuming the artificial and heavily refined ingredients that are also contained within these products. In other words, I didn’t want to chance giving the impression that these foods were worth considering as part of a healthy diet. They aren’t (with very few exceptions).

There’s always someone out there looking to falsely justify why eating 3 bowls of Frosted Flakes is healthy, so I’ve decided to remain diligent in not giving them the opportunity to do so.

Now that I’ve given a relatively extensive amount of attention to vitamin A and vitamin B1, I hope that you’re starting to understand why solely paying attention to the macronutrients in your diet just isn’t going to cut it when living with optimal health carries at least the same level of importance to you as looking your best.

After nearly 3,000 words, I’m not sure there’s much more I can say about vitamin B1. I hope you’ve learned a lot and, most of all, that you’ll put this information to use. Stay tuned for the next article in this series where I’ll be bringing you everything you need to know about vitamin B2.

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