Vitamin B1

Natural Sources:
Wheat germ and bran; rice bran; nuts; meat; and fortified cereals.

Standardized Vitamin B1 supplements including liquid multi-vitamin and mineral products, capsules and tablets; Wheat germ; nuts and fortified foods.

Therapeutic Uses:
– Aging Disorders

– Alcoholism

– Brain Functioning

– Colic

– Dysmenorrhea

– Heart Health Maintenance

– Heartburn

– Herpes

– Migraine

– Nervous System Health Maintenance

– Memory

– Vascular Disorders

– Vitamin B1 Deficiency (RDA = 0.3-1.6 mg/day)

Thiamine, or vitamin B1, is considered to be a fragile, water-soluble compound, particularly important as a catalyst in carbohydrate metabolism, enabling carbohydrates to release their energy. Thiamine also plays a role in the synthesis of nerve-regulating substances. The discoverers of vitamin B1 are quoted as saying, “There is present in rice polishings a substance different from protein and salts, which is indispensable to health and the lack of which causes nutritional polyneuritis” (Christian Eijkman and Gerrit Grijns, 1906). Thiamine is commonly known as the “nerve vitamin”. Deficiency in thiamine causes beriberi, which is characterized by muscular weakness, swelling of the heart, and leg cramps and may, in severe cases, lead to heart failure and death. Many foods contain thiamine, but few supply it in concentrated amounts. Foods richest in thiamine are wheat germ and bran, nuts, meat, brewer’s yeast, eggs, leafy green vegetables, whole or enriched cereals, berries and legumes. Milling of cereal removes those portions of the grain richest in thiamine; consequently, white flour and polished white rice may be lacking in the vitamin. Because of this, in some under-developed countries where polished white rice is a stable, the terrible disease of beri-beri still persists*. Widespread enrichment of flour and cereal products has largely eliminated the risk of thiamine deficiency, although it still occurs today in nutritionally deficient alcoholics. Heart patients receiving certain drugs are also at risk of developing severe thiamin deficiency. Thiamin deficiency is a cause of ‘high output cardiac failure’ and may contribute to impaired heart functioning in patients with conjestive heart failure (CHF). Thiamin supplementation (200 mg/day orally for 6 weeks) resolved many symptoms of furosemide therapy. One large trial studying treatments for primary and secondary dysmenorrhoea showed vitamin B1 to be more effective than placebo in reducing pain.

Vitamin B1 is also known as thiamine, thiamin and aneurin. Thiamine is a colorless, crystalline compound in its pure form. Thiamine is the currently accepted name for vitamin B1 in the US. Aneurin is still widely used in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom. The chemical name for this water-soluble vitamin is 3-[(4-amino-2-methyl-5-pyrimidinyl) methyl]-5-(2-hydroxyethyl)-4-methylthiazolium. Thiamine consists of a pyrimidine ring and a thiazole ring connected by a one carbon link. The nitrogen in the thiazole ring has a charge of +1. This nitrogen atom serves as an important electron sink in thiamine pyrophosphate mediated reactions. Specifically, it enables pyruvic acid to be absorbed and carbohydrates to release their energy. (Reference: Much of this information was adapted from: http://chemistry.gsu.edu/glactone/vitamins/b1/).

Suggested Amount:
The U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin B1 is 0.3 to 1.6mg/day. Vitamin B1 has been shown to be an effective treatment for dysmenorrhoea taken at 100 mg daily, although this conclusion is tempered slightly by its basis on only one large randomized controlled trial. A clinical trial with significant results for heart patients used a dosage of 200 mg daily and found this level to be very safe with no toxic effects.

Drug Interactions:
None known.

None known.

Side Effects:

None known.


Carper, J. 1993. Food Your Miracle Medicine. HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, New York 10022-5299. Pp. 278.

Duke JA. 1992. Handbook of Biologically Active Phytochemicals and their Activities. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, p. 163-164.

Seligmann H, Halkin H, Rauchfleisch S, et al. 1991. Thiamine deficiency in patients with congestive heart failure receiving long-term furosemide therapy: a pilot study Am J Med 91:151-155.

Shimon I, Almog S, Vered Z, et al. 1995. Improved left ventricular function after thiamine supplementation in patients with congestive heart failure receiving long-term furosemide therapy. Am J Med 98:485-490.

Wilson ML, Murphy PA. 2001. Herbal and dietary therapies for primary and secondary dysmenorrhoea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2001; (3): CD002124. Review.

Additional Information:

Symptoms of Thiamine Deficiency and Beriberi:

Thiamine deficiency usually causes weight loss, cardiac abnormalities and neuromuscular disorders. Acute thiamine deficiency causes the disease syndrome known as beriberi in humans (sometimes called Kakke). An early explorer to Java, Jacobus Bonitus, in 1630 described the disease as follows: “A certain very troublesome affliction, which attacks men, is called by the inhabitants Beri-beri (which means sheep). I believe those, whom this same disease attacks, with their knees shaking and legs raised up, walk like sheep. It is a kind of paralysis, or rather Tremor: for it penetrates the motion and sensation of the hands and feet indeed sometimes the whole body…”Unfortunately beri-beri is still common in parts of southeast Asia where polished rice is a staple and thiamine enrichment programs are not fully in place. Beriberi is characterized by anorexia (loss of appetite) with subsequent weight loss, enlargement of the heart, and neuromuscular symptoms such as parenthesis (spontaneous sensations, such as itching, burning, etc.), muscle weakness, lassitude (weariness, general weakness), and foot and wrist droop. There are three main types of beriberi: (1) dry (also neuritic, paraplegic, and pernicious) beri-beri; (2) wet (also edematous or cardiac) beri-beri; (3) and infantile (also acute) beri-beri. Dry beri-beri usually inflicts older adults and affects mainly the peripheral nerves with little cardiac involvement. It is characterized by atrophy (wasting away) and peripheral neuritis (inflammation of nerves) of the legs and paraplegia (paralysis of the lower extremities). In contrast wet beri-beri displays substantial cardiac involvement especially tachycardia (rapid heart beat) in addition to peripheral neuropathy. Edema progresses from the feet upwards to the heart causing congestive heart failure in severe cases. Infantile beri-beri is usually seen in breast-feeding infants whose mothers are thiamine deficient (but not necessarily showing signs of beri-beri). These infants are usually anoretic and often have trouble keeping the milk down. Once the disease begins it moves rapidly causing heart failure in a matter of hours. (Reference: Much of this information is taken from: http://chemistry.gsu.edu/glactone/vitamins/b1/#disease).

*Note: It is interesting to note that the word ‘ Vitamine’ meaning a vital amine was proposed by a Polish Researcher, Dr. Cacimir Funk, in 1911 to designate a new food substance which cured beri-beri. Other terms were proposed as new factors were discovered, but the word vitamin met with popular favour. Vitamins are potent organic compounds, which are found in small concentrations in foods. They perform specific and vital functions in the body chemistry. They are catalysts that help to run human motors. Except for a few exceptions, they cannot be manufactured or synthesized by the organism and their absence or improper absorption results in specific deficiency disease.