What Does Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) Do to Your Body?

​​Thiamin, also known as vitamin B1, works in many ways to support the functions of the body. Thiamin helps turn the food that we eat into energy that our body needs. It’s also important for the growth and development of the cells in our body. Consuming adequate thiamin is important! It helps manage and prevent certain diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. This vitamin is found in many foods such as whole grains, meat, and fish.

Health Functions

Vitamin B1 (thiamin) is a water-soluble vitamin. It acts as a cofactor in macronutrient metabolism. This means that it assists the body’s cells in converting carbohydrates into energy. This energy is used for many functions in the body. These include the different mechanisms of the brain and nervous system. It also plays a role in muscle contraction, thus helping the body with everyday processes.

Disease Risk Reduction

Research shows that thiamin has many positive effects on our health status. For example, thiamin may help improve blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes. It may also improve glucose tolerance in this same population. People with heart failure also typically have lower thiamin levels. Therefore, there’s a possibility of seeing a  positive influence when consuming foods high in thiamin. Research also demonstrates that thiamin supplementation may help decrease the risk of or progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Groups at Risk

Thiamin deficiency is rare. However, there are still some people at risk of inadequate intake. Typically, these include those who have decreased nutrient intake.It also includes those with increased nutrient losses or impaired nutrient absorption. Some of these groups include those with alcohol dependence and those with HIV/AIDS. Individuals with diabetes and those who have had bariatric surgery may be at risk too. Signs of inadequate thiamin intake include loss of weight and appetite. They may also have memory problems and confusion. Beriberi is another condition from inadequate thiamin. It is characterized by increased heart rate, shortness of breath, or difficulty walking.

Intake Recommendations

Most individuals in the United States obtain adequate thiamin through diet alone. The amount of thiamin that our body needs depends on age and gender.

LIFE STAGE

RECOMMENDED AMOUNT (mg)

Birth to 6 months

0.2

7-12 months

0.3

1-3 years

0.5

4-8 years

0.6

9-13 years

0.9

Teen boys 14-18 years

1.2

Teen girls 14-19 years

1.0

Men

1.2

Women

1.1

Pregnant/breastfeeding

1.4

Thiamin is found naturally in some foods. It may also be eaten from fortified foods.  Some of the most common food sources of thiamin include dates, whole grains, and fortified bread products. Meat, fish, legumes, nuts, and seeds are also good foods to eat. Those who are unable to meet thiamin intakes via food may benefit from supplementation.

Conclusion

Thiamin is a very important vitamin. It helps maintain most functions of the body. It is necessary for the growth, development, and function of cells. Most individuals are able to get adequate thiamin levels from the food that they eat. However, some may be at risk of deficiency and therefore require higher levels of thiamin-containing foods or supplementation. We recommend consuming a variety of foods in your diet. This will ensure that you are obtaining adequate levels of all nutrients, thiamin included.

Written by:
Allison Tallman, MS, RDN, CNSC
Registered Dietitian
Reviewed by:
Registered Dietitian

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