Do you know the top 10 vitamin B1 benefits? If not, read ahead to learn about this essential nutrient and how to make sure you have enough.

Your body needs different nutrients, including vitamins, to stay at its top performance. One such is vitamin B1, an essential water-soluble vitamin belonging to the vitamin B complex group.

While the vitamin B complex is known to prevent infections and promote proper nerve functions, energy levels, cell health, and the growth of red blood cells, you could be wondering what the exact benefits of vitamin B1 are.

See also: What Are Adaptogenic Herbs and Their Health Benefits and Do You Have Low B12 Levels? Watch For These Signs!

This article takes you through this essential vitamin, including its health benefits, food sources, and whether you can get it as a supplement and how safe that can be.

What is Vitamin B1?

Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is a water-soluble vitamin and one of the 8 B vitamins that play an important role in cell metabolism. It can be found naturally in some foods, added to some, or taken as a supplement. 

The body needs vitamin B1 to convert carbohydrates into energy and to maintain proper nerve function. 

Vitamin B1 deficiency can result in symptoms such as:

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Poor memory
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Sleep disturbances

In severe cases, thiamin deficiency can result in beriberi, a condition characterized by nerve, heart, and brain abnormalities. 

It occurs when your thiamine is very low such that the body cannot turn food into energy, causing pyruvic acid to accumulate in the blood.

In the heart, beriberi can cause congestive heart failure and circulatory issues, while in the nerves, it can damage them, leading to reduced muscle strength and eventual muscle paralysis.

For the brain, B1 deficiency has been shown to cause a neurological disorder known as the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

This condition is characterized by three clinical symptoms: visual impairment, mental decline, and lack of muscle coordination.

If left untreated, this condition can permanently impair memory and brain functions.

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What Causes Vitamin B1 Deficiency?

Vitamin B1 is available in most foods you’re likely to consume, so a deficiency is often rare.

However, some conditions may put you at risk. These may include:

  • Alcohol dependence – the most common cause
  • Restricted intake, such as in restricted diets
  • Old age
  • Long-term parenteral nutrition – receiving nutrients through an IV into the bloodstream
  • Eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa
  • Dialysis
  • High intake of diuretic
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Weight loss surgery
  • Too much unfortified processed grains and white rice
  • Conditions that affect your ability to absorb nutrients

Best Plant-Based Sources of Vitamin B1

  • Nutritional yeast: 640 Daily recommended value (DV) per 2 tablespoons
  • Sunflower seeds: 164% DV per a cup
  • Seaweed: 216% DV per cup
  • Black beans: 48% DV per cup
  • Macadamia nuts: 132% DV per cup
  • Navy beans: 44% DV per cup
  • Lentils: 44% DV per cup
  • White beans: 44% DV per cup
  • Green split peas: 40% DV per cup
  • Mung beans: 36% DV per cup
  • Pinto beans: 39% DV per cup
  • Soybeans/edamame: 44% DV per cup
  • Brussels sprouts: 13% DV per cup
  • Asparagus: 25% DV per cup

Top 10 Vitamin B1 Benefits

1. Prevents Beriberi

As mentioned above, a lack of Vitamin B1 makes your body susceptible to various conditions, including Beriberi

This condition manifests in two types; wet Beriberi and dry Beriberi. The wet variation affects your cardiovascular system and the heart function, while the dry one damages the central nervous system, altering the motor function.

Without Vitamin B1, your body cannot break down and digest foods that keep your metabolism optimal. This, in turn, hinders the muscle and nervous system function hence leading to Beriberi.

Beriberi is a treatable condition, and your health professional will recommend taking thiamine through diet. However, extreme cases require medical intervention, especially where the heart is impacted.

2. Promotes a Healthy Metabolism

Metabolism is the chemical or metabolic processes in the body cells that change food into energy.

While thiamine is available in different forms, thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP) is the most beneficial. It is the active form of thiamine that works as a coenzyme in the metabolism of carbohydrates. This makes metabolites (from the carbohydrates metabolism) readily available for energy production in the body.

TPP is also vital for ATP(Adenosine Triphosphate) production in the mitochondria. ATP is the usable energy produced when carbohydrates are broken down. It’s the primary form of energy at the cellular level. With the right levels of ATP, your body can effectively fight off oxidative stress, preventing diabetes, cancer, asthma, cardiovascular conditions, and inflammatory disorders.

3. Boosts Your Immunity

A strong immune system protects the body against infection and disease. Vitamin B1 plays a role in immunity by helping produce white blood cells and antibodies, which fight off invading bacteria and viruses.

Vitamin B1 also helps the body to produce enzymes that destroy harmful toxins. That’s why a deficiency is often associated with an increased risk of infections.

In one study, scientists noted a significant reduction in leukocytes (white blood cells) and erythrocytes (Red blood cells) in people deficient in thiamine than the control group.

4. A Rich Source of Antioxidants

Vitamin B1 is a potent antioxidant that protects your body from the effects of free radicals. If these free radicals overwhelm the body, they could cause oxidative stress, which causes cell damage, eventually leading to disease.

Additionally, oxidative stress causes skin cell damage which can accelerate aging or cause premature signs of aging, such as wrinkles and fine lines.

5. Enhances the Brain Function

Vitamin B1 promotes the conversion of glucose into energy, which the brain and the nervous system need for optimal function.

In addition to its protective effects, vitamin B1 enhances brain function by improving communication between cells. This is important for learning and memory.

Also, vitamin B1 plays a crucial role in the development of the myelin sheath. This protective coat wraps itself around the nerves so they are not damaged. 

6. Prevents Alzheimer’s Disease

As mentioned above, thiamine helps supply the energy the brain cells need to function. Without adequate thiamine, brain cells can die. Additionally, thiamine plays a vital role in acetylcholine production, a neurotransmitter that’s often deficient in Alzheimer’s disease. Acetylcholine is essential for memory and cognitive function,

Additional studies have also shown a link between low vitamin B1 levels and Alzheimer’s-disease like symptoms, including plaque formation and memory impairments.

7. Enhances Your Moods

With its power to positively impact your nervous system and brain, vitamin B1 is sometimes referred to as a ‘morale vitamin.’

Additionally, the lack of vitamin B1 causes your body to be sluggish as it has no energy. This breeds not only a lack of motivation but also a lowered mood. Further research shows that a lack of vitamin B1, alongside other nutritional deficiencies, can aggravate mood-related problems.

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8. Improves Your Cardiovascular Health

The fact that severe thiamine deficiency, as seen in beriberi, can lead to heart failure, it’s clear that thiamine is essential for normal cardiovascular functions.

Thiamine also promotes the production of acetylcholine, which has been shown to control changes in heart rate and the contractility of the heart muscles.

Acetylcholine works by slowing down the heart rate and the force of heart muscle contractions. It also stimulates the endothelial production of nitric oxide, which widens the blood vessels and increases blood flow while promoting a drop in blood pressure.

Also, thiamine has powerful antioxidant properties that can protect the heart from damage caused by free radicals. 

Numerous studies have shown that thiamine supplementation can improve cardiovascular health in both healthy individuals and those with existing cardiovascular conditions.

9. Supports Eye Health

Since ocular health relies on the vitality of the optic nerves, you need vitamin B1 for healthy eyesight. A deficiency causes swelling of the optical nerves and results in blurred vision. These are tell-tale signs of cataracts and glaucoma.

For these two conditions, the eyes lose the muscle and nerve signals to the brain. If left untreated, the optic nerve could be damaged, losing vision. 

In an observational study, a diet high in thiamine was shown to lower the risk of developing cataracts by 40%. Niacin, vitamin A, riboflavin, and protein were also shown to protect against cataracts.

Thiamine can also help promote the treatment of diabetic retinopathy, a diabetic complication in which high blood sugar levels cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina. If no early intervention is made, diabetic retinopathy can lead to vision loss and blindness.

One study found that 100 mg of thiamine taken three times daily reduced albumin in urine, which is a sign of diabetic retinopathy.

Regularly consuming foods rich in vitamin B1 can enhance nerve protection and ensure your ocular health is uncompromised.

10. Boosts the Digestive System

Vitamin B1 is a crucial component in producing hydrochloric acid (HCl). This acid helps in the breakdown and assimilation of food in the stomach.

A deficiency can cause low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria), leading to slowed digestion, delayed gastric emptying, bloating, nausea, and acid reflux, which can sometimes lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease.

The vitamin also helps maintain muscle tone in the intestines, preventing constipation. In addition to this, thiamine also impacts your appetite by regulating the fullness and hunger cues in the brain. This is due to the bridge that thiamine creates between the brain and nerves.

Additionally, thiamine nourishes all the digestive organs and gives them the energy to function optimally. 

How Much Thiamine Do You Need?

According to USDA, the thiamine RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for men 19 years and older is 1.2 mg per day, while women of the same age require 1.1 mg.

However, the demand for pregnant and breastfeeding women is slightly high at 1.4 mg – 1.5 mg per day.

Since your body cannot store the vitamin for long, you must obtain it regularly through diet.

To prevent deficiency, a healthy adult will require about 0.33 milligrams of thiamine for every 1000 milligrams of carbohydrates consumed.

When to Consider a Supplement

In case of severe thiamine deficiency, one may require up to 300 milligrams per day as a prescription supplement to prevent complications.

Various conditions may also require different doses. For instance, one will require about 10 milligrams of thiamine daily to lower the risk of developing cataracts.

It’s also recommended that those with retinopathy take 10-30 milligrams of thiamine daily.

In the case of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, 50-100 milligrams of IV (intravenous) thiamine is usually given, while those with cardiovascular complications, including edema, should get 100 grams of IV thiamine daily for the recommended period.

Potential Vitamin B1 Side Effects

There are no known side effects of consuming too much Vitamin B1 from food sources. This is especially because thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin, and like other water-soluble vitamins, any excessive intake is excreted in urine within a few hours of consumption.

However, too much intake as a supplement can result in various side effects, such as 

  • Hives
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Itching
  • Mild rash
  • Difficult breathing in serious conditions

If you experience any of the symptoms after taking a thiamine supplement, seek medical attention.

Vitamin B1 Interactions

Vitamin B1 does not interact with drugs and foods when taken in the right amounts. Nevertheless, you must follow your doctor’s instructions on any restrictions that you may have when using a supplement.

Related articles:

  1. Fat Soluble Vs. Water Soluble Vitamins
  2. 9 Best Heart Vitamins
  3. Best Vitamins for Depression
  4. Best Fruits with Magnesium

Final Thoughts

Vitamin B1 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in boosting energy production, strengthening the immune system, improving heart health, maintaining proper vision, and boosting brain function.

A thiamine deficiency can cause various issues, including muscle weakness, nerve damage, cognitive problems, fatigue, and increased susceptibility to infections. In severe cases, conditions like beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome can occur.

While a deficiency is rare, some conditions like chronic alcoholism, anorexia, and eating too much processed foods or too little carbohydrates can increase your risk.

What about overdose? Vitamin B1 is water-soluble, meaning it can easily be lost in the water. This causes any excessive intake to be lost in the urine. Nonetheless, too much intake as a supplement may cause effects such as nausea, hives, sweating, restlessness, and itching.

Overall, you don’t need a vitamin B1 supplement unless you have very low levels and a doctor has recommended it. You can easily meet your daily requirements through healthy plant-based foods such as nutritional yeast, sunflower seeds, mung beans, seaweed, macadamia nuts, and black beans.

A good rule of thumb is to obtain your food sources from whole, minimally processed, or unprocessed categories. Include a variety of legumes, seeds, nuts, and vegetables, and you’ll be good to go.

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