Carol has a master's degree in Nutrition/Dietetics and taught nutrition-related courses at the university level for 10 years.
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!
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:
- Brewer's yeast
- Legumes (beans, lentils, etc)
- Green vegetables
- Whole-grain cereals
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:
- Muscle wasting
- Enlarged heart
- Heart failure
- Muscular weakness
- Poor short-term memory
- Difficulty walking
- Weight loss
Severe thiamine deficiency in alcoholics is referred to as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Symptoms of this condition include a staggering walk, short-term memory loss, jerky eye movements, and disorientation.
Thiamine assists in the process of energy metabolism, helping the body to reach its best performance, and it is responsible for sending electrical signals between the nervous system and body tissues. Deficiency can be avoided by eating a variety of nutritious foods each day.
Lesson at a Glance
As part of the B-vitamin family, thiamine assists with the formation of coenzymes that help with the metabolism of energy throughout the body. There are plenty of foods that are rich in thiamine. Because it is a water-soluble vitamin not stored by the body, humans must consume a lot of it to avoid deficiency.
After reviewing this lesson about thiamine, you should be able to do the following:
- Describe the purpose of thiamine
- Identify the different foods rich in thiamine
- Explain the symptoms of a thiamine deficiency
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
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