Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is a water-soluble vitamin. As one of the 8 B vitamins, thiamine plays a role in cellular metabolism. Specifically, it is an integral component of the coenzyme factor thiamine pyrophosphate or TPP, which converts carbohydrate to glucose. Glucose is then broken down to generate energy which can be used by your cells. In addition, vitamin B1 coordinates activities of the nerves and muscles, maintains normal muscle tone of the digestive tract and supports functions of the heart. Thiamine is obtained from muscle meats, organ meats, egg yolks, whole grains, green and leafy vegetables, legumes and nuts.

Why do we need vitamin B1 as we age?  What are its actions and will it slow aging or prevent disease?

Thiamine is an anti-aging vitamin because it keeps your nerves and brain healthy as you age. The myelin sheaths that speed up the conduction of impulses degenerate as you get older. Damaged sheaths slow down impulse conduction, resulting in decreased sensation and slower reflexes. Thiamine maintains brain and nerve functions and prevents injuries by protecting the myelin sheaths from early degeneration and erosion.  In addition, thiamine prevents depression, memory loss and muscle fatigue.

Thiamine has other important actions that prevent age-related conditions. It protects your eyes from cataracts by preventing oxidative damages to your eyes’ lenses. It maintains good muscular tone of the digestive tract to aid digestion and prevent constipation. The movement of contents through the large intestine and the contractions of the rectum decrease with age, resulting in constipation.

Can I get enough of vitamin B1 from my food?

In healthy individuals, vitamin B1 is sufficiently obtained from foods high in thiamine, such as muscle meats and organ meats.  Whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts are also good sources of thiamine. Most cereals and flours are fortified with thiamine as highly processed grains have very little thiamine left.

If I’m to supplement with vitamin B1, in what form should I take it?  What are the ‘rules of engagement’?

As a supplement, vitamin B1 is either sold individually or a part of B-complex vitamins or multivitamins. They are available in tablet forms, lozenges and softgels. Vitamin B1 supplements are labeled thiamine hydrochloride or thiamine mononitrate.

What dose of vitamin B1 should I take?

The RDA for thiamine is 1.4 mg for men and 1.0 mg for women. For supplementation, you may take up to 50 mg of thiamine per day. Consult your physician to determine the right dose for you.

Are there any risks with supplementation with Vitamin B1?

Thiamine is generally safe and non-toxic.  Vitamin B1 can cause stomach upsets if taken in large amounts.

Are there any special requirements when I take this?

Thiamine should be taken with meals for better absorption.

Does this supplement need other compounds to accompany it for optimal absorption?

Thiamine should be taken with B complex vitamin and manganese.

If I supplement with vitamin B1, do I need to take this in divided doses?

Vitamin B1 supplements are usually taken in two doses daily.

Can I test so as I know whether I’m deficient in vitamin B1 or to ascertain that I’m taking the correct dose for me?

Blood thiamine and urinary excretion of thiamine and its metabolites are measured to determine thiamine deficiency. A thiamine loading test is the best indicator of thiamine deficiency. Increased enzyme activity by 15% is a definitive marker of deficiency.

What is the best source of vitamin B1?

Vitamin B1 or thiamine is best obtained from natural food sources. Animal and plant food sources do not only supply thiamine but they also provide the other essential nutrients that promote overall health.  Romaine lettuce, asparagus, mushrooms, spinach, sunflower seeds, tuna, green peas, tomato, eggplant and Brussels sprouts are the best sources of thiamine. If you can’t acquire sufficient vitamin B1 from your diet due to an existing medical condition, thiamine supplementation should be considered.


Last Reviewed: 28-Apr-2011 

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Ann-Mary Amber

Ann-Mary Amber has twenty years experience in wholistic therapies and specialises in nutritional and environmental medicine. She is an experienced group facilitator and lecturer and an integral part of the ACNEM education team.

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