Vitamin B1

By Mirella Levin

Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is a form of thiamin pyrophosphate. This was named Vitamin B1 because it was the first B vitamin to be discovered. It is a water soluble vitamin which means that it must be taken in on a daily basis due to the body’s inability to store it. Its primary function is to convert food into energy (this is done by breaking down carbohydrates into glucose). However, it also helps the body metabolize fats and proteins (amino acids), as well as synthesize hydrochloric acid (HCl) which is needed for proper digestion. Moreover, it enhances blood circulation, cognitive brain functions and because it is an antioxidant, it helps protect the body from the effects of ageing, alcohol and smoking. Finally, it strengthens the immune system, improves the body’s ability to deal with stress and helps maintain a healthy heart, muscles and nervous system.

Thiamine is found in both plants and animals and it crucial in many metabolic reactions. It has a fundamental role in respiration as it is used to form ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is the form of energy used in cells throughout the body. It has also been suggested that thiamine lower the risk of developing Cataracts disease, which impairs one’s sight. This substance can be found in multivitamins although it may be labeled “thiamine mononitrate” or “thiamine hydrochloride”. It is found in most whole grains foods but yeast, grains, milk, egg yolk, wheat germ, nuts, red meat, cereals, and legumes can also be a good source of this vitamin.

Deficiency of this vitamin is rare in developed countries as many cereals and breads are fortified with thiamine. However, deficiency can develop quickly as the substance is not stored in the body. There are two main diseases than can result from a Vitamin B1 deficiency: Beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. The latter is a brain disorder which in reality is two different illnesses combined. Wernicke causes damage to the nerves in the peripheral and central nervous systems. Meanwhile, Korsakoff results in memory impairment and further nerve damage. Beriberi is a sickness that results in muscle weakness (damage to the heart muscle), neuritis and difficulty breathing. It is caused by the inefficiency of the digestive system to breakdown carbohydrates, causing pyruvate (or pyruvic acid) to build up in the blood. However, this can be treated with Thiamine. Other symptoms of this type of deficiency include fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, mental depression, constipation and gastrointestinal problems.

However, Thiamine overdose can also lead to problems such as a rapid pulse, agitation, hypersensitivity, insomnia and high blood pressure. Both deficiency and overdose can be avoided by the ingestion of the substance in the correct proportions. It is suggested that 1.2 mg of Vitamin B1 be consumed daily.


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