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Everything You Need To Know About Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)

By Tyler Woodward

Thiamin or Vitamin B1 is an essential nutrient that we must consume through our diet. In this blog we’ll go over everything you need to know about thiamine.


What Is Thiamin?:

What Is Thiamin?

Thiamin was discovered in 1897 by doctor, Takaki Kanehiro and was originally known as the anti-beriberi compound. Beriberi, is a disease caused by a deficiency in vitamin B1 resulting in a variety of symptoms including:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness in limbs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in limbs

Kanehiro discovered that by consuming a variety of grains instead of exclusively white rice, soldiers were extremely less likely to succumb to beriberi. Kanehiro would later become known as the ‘Barley Baron’ for his recommendation to the Japanese navy to consume barley to prevent beriberi.

Thiamin itself wasn’t isolated until 1912 when Casimir Funk found the compound in brown rice. He described the compound as a vitamin, a chemical with an amine group that was necessary for life. It was later discovered that not all vitamins had amine groups, so the name was changed to vitamin, as you now know it today. Eventually, it was discovered that thiamin didn’t have an amine group, so the name was changed from thiamine to thiamin, but both spellings are used today. 

Read More: The War On Micronutrients | The Battle You Never Knew You Were Fighting

Functions Of Thiamine:

Functions Of Thiamine

Thiamine is most well known for its role in glucose metabolism, the process of converting glucose (sugar) into energy.  In glucose metabolism thiamine is a necessary cofactor in the pyruvate dehydrogenase enzyme. Basically, meaning that without thiamine your cells can’t use oxygen & glucose to make fuel as ATP. 

Thiamin also plays a number of other roles in the body including amino and fatty acid metabolism. Basically, if you want your cells to be running properly and producing adequate amounts of energy then you need thiamine.

In many ways, thiamine acts as a gate keep in energy production. Energy production will be limited by the amount of thiamine present in the cell, so it’s a rate-limiting factor. If adequate thiamine is in supply, then energy production will likely be limited by other factors like glucose or fatty acid supply among other essential vitamins. 

Thiamin is also a necessity for the synthesis of new fatty acids and nucleic acids, most commonly DNA and RNA. Lastly, it’s necessary for the balance of neurotransmitters in your brain.

What’s A Cofactor?

Thiamin Cofactor

Enzymes are molecules that are necessary for the conversion of chemicals in the body. Enzymes are responsible for both combining things together and breaking them apart. 
You might think of enzymes as like the mortar holding up the bricks of a building. In this analogy, a cofactor is the water that you mix into the mortar to make it liquid, so it can be applied to the brick. Without the water, you will never be able to apply the mortar to the brick and it will inherently never be able to do its job. 

Where Is Thiamine Found?:

Thiamin is found in the most metabolically active tissues in the body including: 

  • Muscle
  • Heart
  • Liver
  • Kidney
  • Brain

Read More: Does Your Multivitamin Suck


The Best Sources Of Thiamine:

Food That Contain Thiamin

The best sources of thiamine generally come from either whole grains or meat, with an increased concentration in organ meats. Pork, fish, chicken, beef all contain moderate amounts of B1, with the highest concentration found in pork and fish. 

Thiamine is also found in whole grains like whole wheat and brown rice, but these also include a host of other anti-nutrients that can decrease the absorption of other nutrients like electrolytes. For this reason, thiamine is fortified in a lot of the bread and cereals eaten today in order to prevent a thiamine deficiency. 

Generally, I do not recommend consuming fortified foods because they can contain large amounts of iron which can cause an excess of iron to be absorbed. Luckily, breads like sourdough have actually been shown to retain a large portion of their vitamin B1 & B2 in the fermentation process compared to bread risen with baker’s yeast. Sourdough also contains a lot less of the nutrient depleting anti-nutrients than brown rice or regular wheat.

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My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within this subject. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism, feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups or on Instagram @tylerwoodward_fit. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time… be good

~Tyler Woodward