Thiamine, most often referred to as thiamin, is also popularly known as vitamin B-1 or aneurine. It was first identified in the 1930s, making it one of the first natural compounds to be considered a vitamin. Thiamine may be found naturally in foods such as beef, pork, nuts, legumes, oats and whole-grain cereals, and foods such as white rice and white flour are often fortified with thiamine. Thiamine plays an important part in your body’s daily functions, but unfortunately, the human body does not store thiamine well, so consuming thiamine-rich foods or supplements is necessary to keep yourself healthy.
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Thiamine is essential to the body’s cardiac health. Severe thiamine deficiency, known as beriberi, can impair cardiac function. When caught, beriberi is treatable. If left unchecked for too long, however, beriberi can eventually cause congestive heart failure.
Some enzymes in your body cannot operate alone, and thiamine, either in the form of thiamin pyrophosphate or thiamin pyrophosphokinase, helps these enzymes function. Most notably, thiamine interacts with the coenzymes related to your cells’ mitochondria, which controls how your body converts food into energy. Accordingly, these coenzyme relations directly impact how you metabolize your food, particularly carbohydrates.
Studies in Australia and the United States have found a potential link between thiamine and eye health. In a study of 2,900 men and women, published in the March 2000 issue of "Opthamology," the participants who had the most thiamine in their systems were 40 percent less likely to develop nuclear cataracts than those who had the least thiamine. Additionally, the April 2005 issue of "Archives of Opthamology" reports a study of 408 American women in which it was determined that greater amounts of thiamine in the body led to slower progression of lens opacification, or clouding of the eye’s lens. Further studies will be necessary to cement this connection between thiamine and ocular health.
Thiamine is an important element of mental health. Thiamine deficiency can, in some people, lead to a type of dementia known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This syndrome includes confusion, visual impairment, ataxia, coma, hypotension, stupor, memory disorder and hypothermia, and most symptoms may be cured if it is caught early enough. Unfortunately, memory function is rarely completely cured.