What Does Vitamin B1 Do?


Vitamin B1, also known as thiamin, is an essential B vitamin that is required for human health. Vitamin B1 is needed for the health of the nervous system as well as the metabolism of the foods we eat.


Deficiency of vitamin B1 can lead to serious nervous system disorders, including muscle weakness, depression, memory problems and numbness and tingling in the body. If left untreated, vitamin B1 deficiency can lead to serious dementia, especially in chronic alcoholics. Vitamin B1 deficiency can also impair heart function by weakening heart contractions, which leads to heart failure.


Vitamin B1 plays a crucial role in the metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins to produce energy for the body. Vitamin B1 is also required for the metabolism of alcohol. Because the heart, brain and nervous system all require high levels of energy for proper functioning, vitamin B1 is essential for the health of these body systems.


Like many B vitamins, the best sources of vitamin B1 are whole foods like fish, poultry, nuts and whole grains. Vitamin B1 is also found in some vegetables, including asparagus and broccoli, but cooking food can break down this and other B vitamins, making dietary supplements one of the best sources compared to the standard Western diet. To prevent deficiencies and ensure an adequate intake of vitamin B1 to protect and optimize your health, take a supplement containing a minimum of 10 mg of vitamin B1 daily. Ideally, take vitamin B1 in conjunction with other B vitamins in a B-complex supplement.


Vitamin B1 absorption can be impaired by a folate deficiency. Folate deficiency, in turn, is associated with alcoholism, so it is important to assess the status and supplement with both folate and vitamin B1 in alcoholics. Vitamin B1 is also often destroyed during the processing and preservation of foods. If you eat a diet composed of mostly processed foods and carbohydrates, or drink alcohol frequently, make sure you are supplementing with vitamin B1, as well as other B-complex vitamins–including folate, to avoid deficiencies. In fact, the more alcohol you consume, the more vitamin B1 you will need–up to 150 mg daily, but speak with your doctor first. Vitamin B1 is also best absorbed when taken with food, so take your supplements with meals or a snack.


Some medications, including antibiotics and oral contraceptives, can deplete vitamin B1 levels in the body. Certain health conditions that impair nutrient absorption, including celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome, may also affect vitamin B1 levels in the body. Always talk to your doctor about whether you may require additional supplementation of any nutrients if you are taking any prescription medications or if you are being monitored for any health condition.

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