What Is Thiamine? - Benefits, Foods & Deficiency Symptoms

Instructor: Carol King Kennard

Carol has a master's degree in Nutrition/Dietetics and taught nutrition-related courses at the university level for 10 years.

Can vitamins give you an energy boost? Maybe not directly, but some do provide a helping hand to make energy available for your body. Thiamine is one of those vitamins. This lesson will explore thiamine's benefits, its food sources and symptoms of thiamine deficiency.


Imagine that you have a bright red Ferrari sports car that will go 0-60 miles per hour in 3.1 seconds, but it is out of gas. It has no fuel, so it won't be going anywhere even with all that potential speed. Fortunately, there is a full can of gas sitting right beside the car! As much as the car needs the gas contained within the can, it cannot get the gas from the can all by itself. It must have help. Recognizing the car's need for gas, you pick up the can and pour the gas into the tank of the car. Problem solved!

A practical example of the coenzyme process.
Practical Example of Coenzyme Process

Thiamine (B1), as well as the rest of the B-vitamin family, helps with the formation of coenzymes (or enzyme helpers) in the body. Enzymes have many jobs to do throughout the body which require the assistance of coenzymes. Just as the out-of-gas sports car needs help getting gas from the can into its gas tank, the human body needs the help of thiamine, which works as part of the coenzyme thiamine pyrophosphate, to break down food into usable energy. Without thiamine, the energy can be present (in the form of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) but it cannot be transferred and used by the body. In this way, thiamine is a helper in the process of energy metabolism, helping the body to reach optimum performance.

Another valuable responsibility of thiamine is that it sends electrical signals between the nervous system and body tissues, assisting in the flow of electrolytes in and out of nerve and muscle cells. Your nerve processes and muscles therefore depend a great deal on thiamine.

Food Sources and Recommended Doses

Thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it dissolves in water and is not stored in the body. If you eat more thiamine than you need, it will leave your body on one of your next bathroom breaks. For this reason, we need to get plenty of thiamine each day.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for Thiamine

1.2 mg/day for adult men

1.1 mg/day for adult women

Here are some foods rich in thiamine:

  • Pork
  • Beef
  • Brewer's yeast
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, etc)
  • Green vegetables
  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Oats
  • Fish
  • Oranges
  • Rice
  • Seeds
  • Wheat
  • Whole-grain cereals

Deficiency Symptoms

The typical diet in the United States and Canada meets or even exceeds the recommendation for thiamine. There are some groups, however, who may not get enough thiamine, including the elderly, alcoholics, adults under great stress and some elite athletes. People who don't eat enough food to meet their nutritional needs or who eat and drink mostly empty-calorie foods may also be at risk for thiamine deficiency. A classic thiamine deficiency disease is called beriberi. Beriberi has two forms: wet beriberi, which includes fluid accumulation and swelling affecting the cardiovascular system, and dry beriberi, which affects the nervous system and occurs without swelling from fluid accumulation.

Typical symptoms of thiamine deficiency include:

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