In the late 1800’s, it was found that individuals who consumed a diet containing significant amounts of refined or polished white rice experienced muscle weakness, confusion, weight loss, and other symptoms. These symptoms did not occur when brown rice was consumed. It was identified that the refined rice lacked something that brown rice contained. The substance identified was vitamin B1 and later named thiamine.
Decades later, chemists and pharmaceutical companies like Merck began industrial synthesis of thiamine. It was added to foods to replenish the thiamine removed during food manufacturing and prevent serious effects from malnutrition. After further research, thiamine was changed to thiamin due to its biochemical structure. Thiamin and thiamine, however, are still used interchangeably and refer to vitamin B1.
Our modern lifestyles and diet with ultra-processed foods, refined grains, and high carbohydrate intake creates somewhat similar parallels to the high intake of polished rice over 100 years ago. Many individuals may unknowingly experience a decline in health from insufficient thiamin intake despite fortification of foods.
Is This You?
Insufficient intake of thiamin affects your body in many ways. It affects your cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal, respiratory, musculoskeletal, nervous system, and overall metabolism.
Fatigue, irritability, moodiness, mental fuzziness, confusion, and memory lapses may occur with insufficient vitamin B1 intake. Balance, vision, hearing, and smell are affected by inadequate thiamin. A weak, whispering voice may occur. Disruption to the blood brain barrier, increased oxidative stress and activation of glial cells (the brain immune cells), which contributes to brain stress and faster aging occurs with reduced thiamin intake.
Loss of appetite, sleep disruption, changes in gut motility, indigestion and food intolerances are linked with insufficient thiamin intake. Heart rhythm, cardiac output, blood pressure, and autonomic nervous system stability require thiamin intake. Low body temperature and disturbance in its circadian rhythm regulation can occur with insufficient thiamin intake.
Muscle function is impacted as thiamin insufficiency may lead to muscle pain, spasticity/spasms, exercise intolerance and weakness. Increased lactic acid production occurs.
Why Is Vitamin B1 So Important?
Thiamin is in high metabolic demand by your brain, heart, liver, muscles, nerves, and pancreas. It is used up quickly for these cellular functions and is rapidly depleted.
Vitamin B1 is a fundamental, pivotal player in glucose, fatty acid, and amino acid pathways. It is especially important for how your body properly metabolizes carbohydrates.
As thiamin levels decline, the effects of impaired carbohydrate metabolism lead to increased blood sugar levels. Over time, a build up of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) occurs leading to increased hemoglobin A1C levels. This creates high levels of oxidative stress which injures nerves, eyes/retina, capillaries, and the inner lining of blood vessels making tissues stiff.
Thiamin is used as a critical cofactor by your body for mitochondrial ATP production and cellular oxygen metabolism. A lack of thiamin in your cells and mitochondria forces metabolism to shift towards a more anaerobic state. Instead of 38 molecules of ATP/energy produced, it is reduced to 2 ATP molecules for each OXPHOS cycle within the Kreb’s cycle.
Depletion of thiamin can lead to apoptosis/cell death as it is necessary for cell proliferation, myelin synthesis, and antioxidant activity. Your overall ability to produce quality, sustainable mental and physical energy and metabolism is significantly handicapped when thiamin levels are depleted!
The best foods for thiamin are whole, unrefined/unprocessed foods. Rich sources include pork, fish (salmon, trout, tuna, and catfish), seeds and nuts such as macadamia, pistachios, sunflower seeds, flax seed, beans, legumes, peas, tofu, brown rice, whole wheat, acorn squash, asparagus and other foods.
A whole foods diet will exceed the basic RDA intake for vitamin B1. However, 77% of the American diet consists of moderately to highly processed foods, which lack thiamin and increases your need.
RDA Intake Easy to Reach but Missed by Many
The RDA for thiamin is 1.1-1.2 mg per day to prevent severe disease and is based on reports completed in the 1940’s. The Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) is even lower. Diet can meet these basic needs, but even so, thiamin deficiency occurs in 20-90 percent in various population groups. The American diet of refined foods contributes to higher need for thiamin.
Does Insufficient Intake of Thiamin Affect You?
Vitamin B1 is an essential nutrient. It must be obtained in the diet. Without sufficient intake, numerous changes occur in your body. These can affect people at any age, even infants. If a nursing mother’s diet is high in refined carbs and low in thiamin, the infant will not receive adequate thiamin, which is necessary for brain health and overall development.
Insufficient thiamin status occurs most commonly in people with obesity, blood sugar problems, pregnancy, mood or mental health disorders, neurodegenerative decline and brain aging, the elderly, alcoholics, those who use certain diuretics/water pills, and often in those who are hospitalized. Individuals who have had bariatric or gastric bypass surgery or have eating disorders need higher thiamin intake. Copper may compete against thiamin absorption.
In addition, imbalanced gut bacteria or dysbiosis and intestinal malabsorption affect thiamin levels in your body. Low thiamin intake also leads to decreased production of pancreatic enzymes. This can further contribute to malabsorption and poor digestion. Cooking foods also degrades thiamin levels naturally in food.
If you are on restricted diet, i.e., gluten-free, grain-free, and/or vegetarian diet, you are also at risk for insufficient thiamin intake.
Forms of Thiamin
Vitamin B1 is available in different forms. Common water-soluble forms include thiamine HCl/hydrochloride and thiamine mononitrate. These forms are often poorly absorbed, and new sources were sought out. One of the best forms is called benfotiamine.
Benfotiamine: Superior Absorption and Activity
Benfotiamine absorption level is 3.6 times higher into the blood stream compared to the common form of thiamine HCl. Benfotiamine also has superior bioavailability compared to other enhanced forms such as fursultiamin and thiamin disulfide.
Benfotiamine increases the physiological activity of alpha-keto-glutaric acid and pyruvic acid. This aids in liver function as well as Kreb’s cycle activity, energy production, metabolism, and lactic acid management. These effects enhance your physical and mental vitality and endurance.
Brain and Nerves
Benfotiamine has impressive benefits in supporting brain and nerve health. Animal studies demonstrate that consistent use of benfotiamine enhanced spatial memory and protected nerve cells against blood sugar stress in the brain. It decreased oxidative stress levels and lowered levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), tau protein tangles and amyloid plaque build up in tissues as it inhibited pro-inflammatory GSK3 activity and lowered production of iNOS and TNF-alpha.
Benfotiamine increased mitochondrial activity and stimulation of mitochondrial biogenesis. In addition, the antioxidant systems of SOD, glutathione, and Nrf2 are activated with benfotiamine in the brain, nerves, and other high energy tissues. Benfotiamine use led to improvements in mood stress and cognitive function.
Blood Sugar and AGEs
Benfotiamine provides substantial support for blood sugar metabolism and nerves. It increases enzyme activity used in blood sugar management inside blood vessels. In doing so, it blocked three major pathways that damages cells, nerves, and capillaries from high blood sugar and accumulation of AGEs.
Modulates Immune Responses
In the immune system, benfotiamine has been shown to modulate against the effects of LPS toxin-induced oxidative stress. Cell cultures show that it suppressed the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Research suggests that benfotiamine helps regulate immune responses and provides anti-inflammatory activities against certain immune cells and challenges.
Vitamin B1 works together with other nutrients. Most notably, adequate magnesium is required to activate thiamin in your body. Thiamin also works together with acetylcholine, the primary memory neurotransmitter for your brain.
R-alpha lipoic acid is also often used with different forms of thiamin for nerve and blood sugar support. A clinical trial showed that benfotiamine with R-alpha lipoic acid significantly supported blood sugar metabolism which reduced formation of advanced glycation end products (AGE) inside cells.
Benfotiamine may be found in Daily Energy Multiple Vitamin, Super Coenzyme B Complex, Super Mini Multi, Thiamin is also found in Muscle Mag and Daily Prenatal Multiple Vitamin. Extra thiamin and other B vitamins may be used as desired to meet higher needs. Thiamin has an excellent safety profile and is well tolerated even in high doses greater than 500 mg/day.