Vitamin B1, also called thiamine or thiamin, is one of the water soluble B vitamins. It is naturally present in some foods, added to others and available as a supplement. It plays a critical role in energy metabolism and the growth, development and function of cells. Thiamine is stored in the liver in very small amounts and has a very short half life, making a continuous supply necessary.
In the United States many breads, cereals and infant formulas are fortified with thiamine. Due to its water solubility, the cooking process can significantly alter and reduce the thiamine content of foods. Foods with the highest thiamine content include pork chops, trout, black beans, mussels, brown rice, acorn squash, orange juice and bottom round.
Thiamine deficiency can be caused by both insufficient intake as well as from lower absorption or higher secretion rates than normal. People at the highest risk of thiamine deficiency include people with alcohol dependence, older adults, people with HIV and diabetes as well as people who have undergone bariatric surgery. Studies have shown that up to 80% of people with alcohol dependency have thiamine deficiency, as alcohol both reduces absorption as well as depletes thiamine stores in the liver.
Thiamine deficiency is related to many severe health problems. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is an extremely severe neuropsychiatric disease that is caused by depleted thiamine levels due to chronic alcoholism. Studies have suggested that supplemental thiamine can aid in the treatment of diabetes. Thiamine deficiency has also been linked to heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
There are no known harmful side effects from ingesting too much thiamine, as thiamine’s water solubility allows excess to be excreted through urine. People who take diuretics may need to take supplemental thiamine in order to offset the loss of thiamine.