Thiamine or vitamin B1, is a water-soluble vitamin, one of eight essential B vitamins that have many important functions throughout the body and used by nearly all cells.
B1 is responsible for helping convert food into energy, since the human body is unable to produce thiamine, it must be consumed through various thiamine-rich foods.
Thiamine deficiency is fairly uncommon in developed countries. However, various factors may increase your risk, including:
Issues and Diseases Related to Thiamine Deficiency
What causes low thiamine levels? It’s believed that thiamine may not properly be absorbed by people who deal with the following conditions/diseases:
- Liver problems
- Anorexia and other eating disorders that result in malnutrition
- Older age, due to factors like low dietary intake, chronic diseases, use of multiple medications and low absorption of thiamine
- Consumption of medications that are known to disrupt thiamine absorption
- Gastrointestinal issues, including prolonged diarrhea and vomiting
- Diabetes, which seems to increase clearance of thiamine by the kidneys
- Having had bariatric surgery, which can lead to under-eating and absorption problems
- A poor diet high in refined foods and lacking vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans and seeds
- Fever, strenuous exercise and other “stressful” demands on the body
- High consumption of foods that may interfere with thiamine absorption (including raw seafood, tea and coffee)
- Potentially pregnancy, which increases the demand for all B vitamins (and most other nutrients)
Many people don’t realize that they have a deficiency, as many of the symptoms are subtle and often overlooked.
Signs and symptoms of thiamine deficiency.
- Loss of Appetite caused – an early symptom, can result on a lack of appetite due to a feeling of being full or satisfied, even when you are not.
- Fatigue – A common symptom, can range from a slight decrease in energy to extreme exhaustion that can occur over a period of time depending on level of deficiency.
- Irritability – A feeling of frustration and agitation, often becoming upset quickly. Irritability has been especially documented in cases involving infants with beriberi, a disease caused by thiamine deficiency.
- Reduced Reflexes – Reduced reflexes of the knee, ankle and triceps, can affect co-ordination and ability to walk, this is caused as deficiency affects the motor nerves, especially in children.
- Tingling Sensation in Arms and Legs – a sensation of “pins and needles” in the upper and lower limbs is a symptom known as paresthesia. Peripheral nerve damage can be caused by deficiency.
- Muscle Weakness – muscle wasting, cramps, pains in the legs and stiffness, greatly improved after thiamine re-supplementation.
- Blurry Vision – Severe thiamine deficiency can cause swelling of the optic nerve, inducing optic neuropathy. This can result in blurry, or even loss of, vision, can be significantly after supplementation with thiamine.
- Nausea and Vomiting – On rare occasions, gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain may be symptoms of thiamine deficiency.
- Changes in Heart Rate – An abnormally slow heart rate as result of thiamine deficiency may cause increased fatigue, dizziness and a greater risk of fainting.
- Shortness of Breath – Thiamine deficiency can affect heart function making it less efficient at pumping blood. This can cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs leading to a feeling of breathlessness.
- Delirium – In severe cases, thiamine deficiency can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome resulting in delirium, memory loss, confusion and hallucinations. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is often associated with thiamine deficiency caused by alcohol abuse. However, thiamine deficiency is also common in elderly patients and may contribute to the occurrence of delirium.
- Beriberi – a disease caused by a vitamin B-1 deficiency, also known as thiamine deficiency. There are two types of the disease: wet beriberi and dry beriberi. Wet beriberi affects the heart and circulatory system. In extreme cases, wet beriberi can cause heart failure.