Vitamin B1 (thiamin) – an energy carrier

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Vitamin B1 in a nutshell:
Vitamin B1, also known as thiamin, was the first vitamin discovered by science. Each and every cell in the human body uses vitamin B1 to carry a form of stored energy known as pyruvate into the mitochondria for transformation into the useful energy it needs.

Best source of Vitamin B1 for Juicers
Fruit and vegetables are not the best sources of B1 with the possible exception of asparagus.

Green leafy vegetables like spinach, sprouts, cabbage & broccoli are sources of B1 as are plums. These sources of vitamin B1 are actually better raw, so perfect for juicers.  Also, dried fruits are great to eat – pistachios and other nuts and seeds are good to nibble on.  Sunflower seeds are excellent sources

Tuna fish is also excellent as is Vegemite.

Alternate names: Vitamin B1; thiamin (US); thiamine (UK).

What Is Vitamin B1?

Vitamin B1 is a water-soluble vitamin. The body absorbs it through the jejunum, the middle part of the small intestine, the part of the small intestine closest to the stomach. When the body has high levels of B1, the vitamin “seeps” across the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. When the body has low levels of B1, specialized receptor cells in the lining of the jejunum actively “pump” the vitamin into the bloodstream.

Vitamin B1 is found in the body in its free form and also in a “phosphorylated” form. In this case, phosphorylation is the process of removing one of the “P's” from the energy storage molecule ATP and adding it to vitamin B1. The best known form of phosphorylated vitamin B1 is thiamin pyrophosphate.

The body can only store about 30 mg of vitamin B1. Our reserves of B1 are mostly in the skeletal muscles, and the vitamin is found also in the liver, heart, brain, and kidneys. Vitamin B1 is constantly breaking down so that if we don't asparagusconsume any vitamin B1 at all, our reserves are exhausted in 18 to 36 days.

What Does Vitamin B1 Do in the Body?

Although the analogy may make biochemists cringe, one of the best ways to understand what vitamin B1 does in the human body is to imagine chopping wood to fit into a pot-bellied stove. Big pieces can't be shoved through the door. Small pieces burn up too fast. Vitamin B1 is transformed into the enzymes that “snip” fats, carbohydrates and certain amino acids that the body can use for fuel. It also reconfigures pyruvate from sugars into the molecular forms that can be used by the mitochondria to release energy for the cell.

Transforming fats, amino acids, and carbohydrates into the forms they can be used by the cell for energy requires three different enzymes. These enzymes are known as alpha-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase, branched chain ketoacid dehydrogenase, and pyruvate dehydrogenase, respectively. For the body to make all three enzymes, it requires not just vitamin B1 (thiamin) but also vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B3 (niacin), and lipoic acid.

Thiamin pyrophosphate is involved in using sugars and amino acids for energy. Our bodies don't just burn sugar and fat. They can also burn the amino acids cysteine, glutamine, and creatine, among other substances derived from protein foods and protein supplements. Thiamin pyrophosphate plays an essential role in making the three enzymes needed for this process.

Thiamin is also critical for the production of a group of enzymes known as the transketolases. These enzymes are essential for the production of two of the A-G-C-T bases used to make DNA. They also make it possible for the liver and the muscles to release sugar stored as glycogen, while protecting the body from the free radicals released from sugar as it is used for fuel. Transketolases make sure cells can use energy and also that they are not harmed in the process.

What Happens When We Don't Get Enough Vitamin B1?

A true deficiency of vitamin B1 can cause some very severe symptoms.

The two classic vitamin B1 deficiency diseases are beriberi and Wernicke's encephalopathy. They are relatively rare. Just in the past few years German researchers have recognized a relationship between problems in vitamin B1 metabolism and cancer—and they may be very common. Here is an overview of these three deficiency conditions.

Beriberi. The term beriberi comes from an expression in the Sinhalese (Sri Lankan) language meaning “weak, weak,” the term repeated for emphasis. It may also be translated as “cannot, cannot.”

Beriberi as it is classically understood causes progressive deterioration of the muscles, congestive heart failure, and dementia. These symptoms were most often observed in people who mostly ate crackers or sea tack, such as sailors on long voyages, of just white rice, such as laborers on plantations in the Dutch East Indies.

The molds that grow on sea tack and damp white rice can produce toxins that cause the same kinds of symptoms in just a few hours. Beriberi caused by vitamin deficiency, however, takes place over a period of at least a few weeks, as the body runs out of the vitamin.

In the twenty-first century, doctors are likely to diagnose this B1 deficiency disease as dry beriberi, wet beriberi, or cerebral beriberi.

  • Dry beriberi is similar to a condition known as peripheral neuropathy. This form of the disease may cause burning, tingling, or numbness in the feet or hands, and diminished sensation in the legs and arms. They may be numbness when seated in a squatting position. Dry beriberi in rare instances causes seizures.
  • Wet beriberi causes rapid heartbeat, enlargement of the heart, shortness of breath, and swelling characteristic of congestive heart failure.
  • Cerebral beriberi is most common in people who are deficient in vitamin B1 because they abuse alcohol. This form of the deficiency disease typically causes a trio of symptoms, abnormal eye movements, abnormal gait (posture while walking), and disinterested detachment from one's surroundings. It may lead to Korsakoff syndrome, which includes short-term amnesia. The earliest symptoms of the disease usually are horizontal nystagmus, shifting of the eyes from right to left, and confabulation, making up stories.sunflower

Wernicke encephalopathy. Wernicke encephalopathy is a progressive disease of the brain caused by vitamin B1 deficiency. The brain uses more energy than any other organ in the body. When the body's stores of B1 are depleted, it is less able to use glucose as a fuel. Brain cells die, and the immune system activates factors that expand blood vessels in the brain so white blood cells can removed affected tissue. The surviving brain tissue is deprived of a compound called succinate, which leads to overstimulation and death of neurons that still have enough thiamin.

Scientists estimate that between 1 and 3% of the population of most developed countries will experience Wernicke encephalopathy at some point in life, usually after the age of 50. About 12% of alcoholics eventually develop this disease. It can occur in people who have gastric bypass surgery for weight loss, in people who are treated with drugs for cancer that work by depriving cells of B vitamins, and in women who suffer severe vomiting during pregnancy.

As little a single 2-mg vitamin B1 tablet is sometimes enough to restore normal brain function at least temporarily. If you believe you or a loved one may suffer Wernicke encephalopathy, however, seek medical attention, since permanent brain damage may occur quickly and it may take a very large amount of supplemental B1 to correct the underlying deficiency.

Transketolases and cancer. The German oncologist Johannes Coy noticed that the transketolases, which cells make with the help of a form of vitamin B1 known as thiamin pyrophospate, do three important things. They release sugars, they protect the body against the free radicals produced when sugars are used as cellular fuel, and they assist in the making of DNA to repair DNA damage. Since there are limits to the amounts of transketolases cells can make, he reasoned, giving the cell less stored sugar to convert into glucose leaves more transketolases to assist in repairing cellular DNA.

Dr. Coy started advising his cancer patients to avoid sugar in all forms. That's not especially new advice—but Dr. Coy was the first physician-scientist to explain the reason why. Some doctors in Poland interpret the science as making a nearly 100%-fat diet the norm for cancer patients, and they get good results. Dr. Coy, however, encourages his cancer patients to eat limited amounts of vegetables and fruit while avoiding sugar and carbohydrates the body can easily turn into sugar.

No one knows how many people develop cancer because they consume too much sugar or too little vitamin B1. Both reducing sugar consumption and making sure of getting enough B1, however, seem prudent.

Are You At Risk for Vitamin B1 Deficiency?

In most of the developed world, the people most likely to develop vitamin B1 deficiency disease are alcoholics. Alcohol in the gut reduces the absorption of the vitamin by about 50%.

Once an alcoholic becomes deficient in B1, then the receptor “pumps” in the small intestine are paralyzed when there is alcohol in the bloodstream. This can reduce the absorption of the vitamin into the bloodstream by up to 98%. Add to this the fact that most alcoholics don't eat a lot of vitamin-rich foods, and vitamin B1 deficiency becomes a very common problem in people who abuse alcohol.

The more sugar someone consumes, the more vitamin B1 is needed to metabolize it. Diets that are high in both alcohol and sugar cause the body to need more B1 at the same time it is less able to absorb it.

But alcoholism is not the only condition that can lead to vitamin B1 deficiency symptoms. The body uses three other B vitamins, folic acid, riboflavin, and niacin, when it uses vitamin B1.If you are deficient in folic acid, riboflavin, or niacin, your body can't use B1.

Some other health conditions also interfere with the body's ability to absorb vitamin B1.

  • People who have had gastric bypass surgery often become deficient in B1.
  • People who have celiac disease (sensitivity to the gluten in wheat) often become deficient in B1.
  • People who develop bacterial overgrowth in the small bowel (also known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO), usually after treatment with antibiotics, may become deficient in B1.
  • Older people who have poor circulation to the small intestines (it's usually diagnosed as poor circulation in the inferior mesenteric artery) may become deficient in B1.
  • People have chronic constipation sometimes become deficient in B1.pistachio

Some health conditions cause the body to consume vitamin B1 at an accelerated rate.

  • Any diuretic increases the excretion of vitamin B1. Up to 1/3 of people who are put on diuretics for congestive heart failure after heart attacks become deficient in vitamin B1during the first month they are on the medication. Furosemide (Lasix) is especially like to cause B1 depletion, but any “loop” diuretic will aggravate the deficiency. You can always ask your doctor or pharmacist if your pill is a loop diuretic. Commonly prescribed loop diuretics include furosemide (Lasix), bumetanide (Bumex), etacryinic acid (Edecrin), and torasemide (Demadex or Diuver).
  • Treatment with the medication spironolactone (often prescribed for extremely high blood pressure but sometimes prescribed for hormonal imbalances) depletes B1.
  • Dialysis depletes vitamin B1.
  • Chronic diarrhea or chronic vomiting depletes vitamin B1.
  • Diabetics who control their blood sugar levels with medication rather than by carbohydrate restriction need extra B1.
  • People who eat diets that are high in saturated fat need more vitamin B1 so their bodies can bur it off.
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding require additional B1.
  • High fevers require the body to burn more glucose and fat and require more B1.
  • People who receive intravenous glucose solutions may become deficient in B1.
  • Malaria greatly increases the body's use of glucose and usually results in B1 deficiency.
  • HIV and AIDS accelerate the use of vitamin B1.

Food Choices that Cause Vitamin B1 Deficiency

Some dietary habits also interfere with the body's ability to use vitamin B1. These include excessive consumption of tea and coffee, use of areca nuts (betel nuts), and consumption of uncooked fish sauce, as well as excessive use of the herb horsetail.

Tea and coffee. Excess consumption of tea and coffee interfere with the body's ability to absorb vitamin B1. This is only a problem when the diet is deficient in B1 or there is an active deficiency disease.

Areca nut and betel quid. Hundreds of millions of people, most of them living in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the rest of Southeast Asia, suffer self-inflicted vitamin B1 deficiency caused by chewing various products made with areca nuts, which are usually mixed with betel leaf, tobacco, or slaked lime. This fruit of the areca palm is often called “betel nut” because it is almost always used with the leaves of the betel vine, a plant in the same family as black pepper. Throughout southeastern Asia, sharing betel leaves and areca nuts is a traditional mark of hospitality. Chewing the nut stains the lips permanently red as if they were coated with lipstick.spinach

Raw fish products. Millions of people in the same part of the world are also at risk of thiamine deficiency caused by the use of uncooked fermented fish. In many Asian countries, fish that are too small to clean and cook and oysters that are too small to shuck are allowed to rot in the sun. The liquid resulting from the putrefaction process is remarkably free of bacteria—it's literally too concentrated in fat for the bacteria to survive. Fish sauce and oyster sauce are a major source of fat and flavor in southeast Asian cuisine.

Cold food, hot food, raw food, cooked food, and vitamin B1 deficiency. Both areca nuts and fish and oyster sauces contain thiaminase, an enzyme that breaks down vitamin B1. This anti-vitamin is more active when areca nuts are warm and when fish sauce and oyster sauce are cold. A study conducted in Thailand in the 1970's found that eating fish sauce cold on cooked food (such as using it as a topping for rice) every day lowered vitamin B1 levels in the human bloodstream by about 16%. The study found that eating fish sauce hot in cooked food lowered vitamin B1 levels by about 11%. Compensating for the anti-vitamin effect of fish sauce in food requires taking at least 10 mg of vitamin B1 supplements every day, and even this amount only partially compensates for the effect.

Researchers have found that areca nuts (which are usually included in a betel quid) destroy up to 85% of the vitamin B1 in a test tube mixture in just three hours. The anti-vitamin effects of areca nuts are higher when the temperature is the mixture is hotter. No scientists have reported the effects of areca nuts on bloodstream levels of vitamin B1 in humans, but it safe to assume they are detrimental.

Fish sauce and areca nuts are not the only sources of anti-vitamins for vitamin B1. The western herb horsetail (Equisetum) also counteracts the vitamin. The effect is measurable after consumption of about 2 cups (500 ml) of horsetail tea, typically used to support bone health or as a diuretic. HealthCanada requires herbal teas that contain horsetail to be certified as free of the anti-vitamin in the herb.

How to Make Sure You Get Enough Vitamin B1

The Food and Nutrition Institute of the US Board of Medicine established a recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin B1 in 1998. Healthy males of all ages need 1.2 mg per day or less to prevent deficiency symptoms. Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers need 1.4 mg per day or less, but females who are not pregnant or breastfeeding need at most 1.1 mg of B1 per day.

Any of the disease conditions listed above increases the need for B1, but a single dose of just 2 mg is usually enough at least temporarily to reverse deficiency symptoms. And a standard American diet usually provides about 2 mg of B1 every day. The Food and Nutrition Institution did not set an upper limit for thiamin supplementation because taking up to 200 mg a day long-term has not been observed to cause problems.

In the United States and Canada, most people get most of their vitamin B1 from enriched flour used to make white bread, white pasta, and pastries. Healthy North Americans are actually at greater risk of vitamin B1 deficiency when they are making the transition from the “standard American diet” to a healthier diet richer in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

So how can you get the B1 you need without eating foods made from enriched flour? Here are some suggestions.brussel-sprout-stalk

  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving of most Morning Star and Worthington brand meat substitutes usually contains 10 to 21 mg of B1, added to the product during processing.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving of Vegemite yeast spread contains 10 mg of natural B1.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving of North American ready-to-eat breakfast cereals or power bars usually contains about 5 mg of B1.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving wheat germ cereal (even without added artificial vitamin B1) contains about 5 mg of vitamin B1.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving of sesame seeds contains about 3 mg of B1.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving of dry spirulina contains about 2 mg of B1.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving tahini contains about 2 mg of B1.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving various kinds of liver usually contain about 1 mg of B1.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving dried sunflower seeds contains about 1 mg of B1.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving dried carrots, sweet peppers,or onions contains about 1 mg of B1.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving pecans, pistachio nuts, filberts, Brazil nuts, or mixed nuts without peanuts contains about 1 mg of B1.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving of cooked pompano or yellow-fin tuna contains about 1 mg of B1.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving of most pork products contains about 1 mg of B1.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving of most fresh vegetables contains about 0.3 mg of B1. Cooking the vegetable reduces the B1 content of the vegetable by about half—but if the way you cook the veggie gets your family to eat three times as much, you are ahead nutritionally.
  • A 3-1/2 oz/100 gram serving of most canned vegetables contains about 0.1 mg of B1.

cabbageIf you are going to depend on whole foods for your B1, it's a good idea to eat wheat germ cereal occasionally and more than 5 servings of fresh vegetables each and every day. If you aren't going to rely on whole foods for your B1, it's important to know that :

  • Many people rely on fortified white rice for their major source of vitamin B1. You don't need a laminated sealed package to preserve the B1 content in fortified white rice. As long as the rice is kept dry, the vitamin B1 content does not deteriorate during storage.
  • Some meats are irradiated for greater shelf-life during storage. The process of irradiation usually destroys about 30% of the B1.
  • Foods dried at low temperatures (other than fish) may actually contain more vitamin B1 than fresh foods—but you lose the B1 if you rehydrate and cook them.

Using Vitamin B1 to Support Recovery from Diseases

Some health conditions are not caused by vitamin B1 deficiency but seem to respond to vitamin B1 supplementation.

  • Bell's palsy is a condition that paralyzes one side of the face. It is usually triggered by a viral infection. It tends to resolve itself without treatment in a year a so, but during that year Bell's palsy can cause an inability to close the eye on the affected side of the face, either dry mouth or drooling and sometimes both, weakness of the facial muscles, blurred vision, ear pain, and eye pain, among other symptoms. It usually comes on suddenly. It's more common in the summer than any other time of year, and it tends to strike type 2 diabetics who do not control their blood sugar levels. Vitamin therapy is not a substitute for medical treatment of Bell's palsy, but taking supplemental B1 and B5 sometimes accelerate recovery from the disease.
  • Diabetic neuropathy is a condition that occurs as the distant ends of long nerves ending in the feet and hands don't receive enough energy. Vitamin B1 helps these nerves make more energy, and lipoic acid helps them regenerate mitochondria. Complete recovery from diabetic neuropathy takes time. Mitochondria are generated at the end of the nerve nearest the spine and have to migrate down to the fingers and toes. Vitamin B1 and lipoic acid, however, assist the process.
  • Cancer support with vitamin B1 is a special case. You don't want to take too much B1, because cancer cells need it, too. Instead, reduce your body's need for B1 by reducing your intake of sugar. That way your cells can use more of the B1 to make transketolases that make DNA repair possible. German and Polish oncologists report remarkable results from low- and no-sugar diets during cancer.

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About Andy Williams

In a processed food culture, simply eating may not be enough. Dr. Andy Williams is a scientist with a strong interest in Juicing and how it can supply the body with the nutrients it needs to thrive in modern society. You can subscribe to his free daily paper called Juicing The Rainbow and follow him on Facebook orTwitter.

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