Thiamine – Vitamin B1

Vitamin B1, also referred to as thiamin or thiamine, is one of the water-soluble B vitamins.

All B vitamins aid in the body’s conversion of carbohydrates (food) into glucose; which is used primarily in producing energy.

They also help in metabolizing proteins and fats, and are needed for healthy eyes, hair, skin, and liver.

Aside from that, B complex vitamins help the nervous system to function properly as they are required for the correct functioning of the brain.


Thiamin was formerly known as aneurine and was first isolated and characterized in the 1930s. It was in fact, one of the first organic compounds recognized as a vitamin.

Thiamin can naturally occur as free thiamin in the body and can also be found in various phosphorylated forms such as thiamin triphosphate (TTP), thiamin monophosphate (TMP), and thiamin pyrophosphate (TPP), which is also known as thiamin diphosphate.

Due to the fact that it can help strengthen the immune system and can improve the ability of the body to withstand stressful conditions thiamin is sometimes referred to as an “anti-stress” vitamin.

Thiamin is referred to as B1 simply because it was the first B vitamin that was discovered. Vitamin B1 is present in both animals and plants, and plays a vital role in certain metabolic reactions. It is highly required by the body for the formation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the form of energy used by cells.

One of the several functions of thiamin is that of the Thiamin pyrophosphate (TPP) form, this is a required coenzyme for essential enzymes. The synthesis of TPP from the free thiamine requires adenosine triphosphate (ATP), magnesium, and thiamin pyrophosphokinase.

Inadequate intake of Thiamine

Inadequate intake of this essential water-soluble vitamin is primarily the main cause of thiamin deficits in most underdeveloped countries. Deficiency in thiamine is common in low-income populations wherein diets are low in thiamin such as polished or milled rice, but high in carbohydrates.

Breast-fed infants are vulnerable in developing infantile beriberi if their mothers are thiamin deficient.

In most industrialized countries, alcoholism is the main reason for having thiamin deficiency that is associated with having very low intake of vitamin B1 among other nutrients.

Thiamine Deficiency

This condition can result from having an insufficient intake of thiamine, consumption of anti-thiamin factors in food, excessive loss of thiamin from the body, increased requirement for thiamin, or a combination of these factors. Some of the common diseases associated with a vitamin B1 deficit include:

  1. Beriberi. This body disorder is caused by having insufficient intake of thiamine in the diet. Some of the symptoms of beriberi include tingling, swelling, or burning sensation in the feet and hands, nystagmus or uncontrolled eye movements, trouble breathing because of fluid in the lungs, and confusion.
  2.  Cataracts. Recent researches suggest that vitamin B1 availability, along with other nutrients; can help lower the risk of having cataracts. Individuals who have a sufficient intake of proteins and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and vitamin A in their diet are less likely to develop cataracts. Adequate consumption of vitamin B-complex such as B1, B2, B9, and B12; as well as vitamins C and E, can help in protecting the lens of the eyes from developing cataracts. However, further studies are needed.
  3. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. This is a brain disorder that is mainly caused by thiamine deficiency. This syndrome is actually two disorders: Wernicke’s disease that involves damaging the nerves of the peripheral and central nervous system, which is often due to malnutrition through alcoholism; and the Korsakoff syndrome that is characterized by having nerve damage and memory problems. Although high dosages of thiamin can actually help improve the muscle coordination and confusion, it does not adequately aid in improving memory loss.
  4. Alzheimer’s disease. Due to the fact that thiamin deficiency can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, researchers believe that vitamin B1 may also help in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, although more researches are still yet to be conducted.

Recommended Dietary Allowance of Vitamin B1 (RDA)

AGE FEMALES (mg/day) MALES (mg/day)
0 to 6 months 0.2 AI 0.2 AI
7 to 12 months 0.3 AI 0.3 AI
1 to 3 years 0.5 0.5
4 to 8 years 0.6 0.6
9 to 13 years 0.9 0.9
14 to 18 years 1.0 1.2
19 years and older 1.1 1.2
Pregnancy all ages 1.4
Lactating all ages 1.4

Food Sources of Thiamine

Some excellent sources of thiamine (vitamin B1 rich foods) include peas, lentils, pork, orange, spinach, cantaloupe, pecans, milk, egg, Brazil nuts, long grain white rice, long grain brown rice, white bread, whole wheat bread, and vitamin fortified foods.


Linus Pauling Institute; University of Maryland Medical Center; UMM2; University of Virginia; North Carolina State University.