Thiamine (vitamin B1) is a water-soluble vitamin that serves as a cofactor in the metabolism of carbohydrates, branch chain amino acids, and fatty acids. It is essential, meaning you have to get it from food. Not to mention, ATP production, used in every cell for energy, requires thiamine.
The importance of thiamine:
Severe deficiency of thiamine leads to beriberi, and less severe deficiency can cause fatigue, gut issues, headaches, and irritability.[ref]
Symptoms of beriberi include emotional problems, weakness, pain, irregular heartbeat, and edema. Dry beriberi symptoms include peripheral neuropathy like symptoms; wet beriberi symptom includes edema, cardiomyopathy, and lactic acidosis.[ref]
Thiamine, in various forms, is an essential cofactor in the mitochondria in the production of energy. Thus a deficiency in this vitamin can cause a variety of different symptoms. In addition, a link between having a low intake of thiamine and an increased risk of cataracts exists.
Thiamine deficiency in the elderly can also lead to misdiagnoses for dementia-related illnesses or increase the risk of these diseases.[ref][ref] In animal studies, supplementing with thiamine "rescued cognitive deficits and reduced Aβ burden in amyloid precursor protein".[ref]
Thiamine and Diet:
Food sources of thiamine include pork, enriched rice, and wheat products, wheat germ, legumes, and sunflower seeds. The daily recommended intake for thiamine is around 1.2 - 2 mg per day.
How do you know if you are getting enough thiamine in your diet? For someone on a grain-free diet who doesn't eat a lot of pork, it may be worth tracking your intake for a week or so to make sure that you are getting enough thiamine. Cronometer.com is an excellent and free way to keep track of your nutrient intake. While full-blown beriberi is rare in the modern world due to thiamine-fortified foods, symptoms from thiamine insufficiency are possible due to restrictive diet fads, anorexia, or bariatric surgery.
People who drink a lot of alcohol can end up with a form of thiamine deficiency, known as Wernicke's encephalopathy, due to liver problems and reduced uptake of thiamine in the intestines.
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