Moving on from the last article on Vitamin A, I thought we’d take a look at Vitamin B this time. Originally, it was thought that there was just one substance which was named vitamin B. After further study, it was soon realised that what they thought was Vitamin B, was actually a collection of different substances co-existing together. So they decided to sub-divide these further into B1, B2 and so on.
After even further examination, they decided that some of these sub-divided vitamins weren’t vitamins at all and so discarded them as part of the Vitamin B group, hence the gap in the numbers e.g. there is no Vitamin B4. Supplements which contain all the sub-groups tend to go under the title Vitamin B Complex. Let’s have a look at B1.
Vitamin B1 is a substance known as Thiamine. It was the first one to be identified and so won the title of B1. Like most of the B vitamins, it plays a vital role in the metabolism of food helping the body convert it into fuel. Your body does this by using it to form Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which the cells of the body use for energy.
Some people like to take Vitamin B1 to prevent mosquitos biting them when on holidays, although there isn’t much clinical evidence to support this claim. Current research is also delving into its role in preventing memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease, but as yet, there are no conclusive findings here either.
It is rare to be deficient in Vitamin B1 as it is found in most plants and animal foods. So even if the diet isn’t as balanced as it could be, an individual is probably absorbing adequate amounts of it from somewhere. Some people with underlying illnesses may have an inadequate intake however. These may include Crohn’s disease, anorexia, and those undergoing kidney dialysis.
Symptoms of deficiency include fatigue, irritability, depression and abdominal discomfort. Thiamine deficiency may also lead to trouble digesting carbohydrates. That allows a build up of a substance called pyruvic acid in the blood, causing a loss of mental alertness, difficulty in breathing and heart damage. This condition is known as beriberi. Beriberi can be recognised through a tingling or burning sensation in the hands and feet along with uncontrolled eye movement called nystagmus.
Another condition caused by lack of Vitamin B1 is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This is a brain disorder, with two main elements. Wernicke disease involves damage to the nervous system usually caused by malnutrition of Vitamin B1 due to chronic alcoholism, and Kosakoff syndrome which is characterised by memory problems.
These conditions are very rare in the western world thankfully, as most breads and cereals are fortified with Vitamin B1. Other rich sources of Thiamine are pork and organ meats. On the none-meat side; wheat-germ and bran contain plenty to keep the levels topped up. As always, if you are thinking of taking vitamin or mineral supplements and are taking other medications, chat to your pharmacist to ensure you choose a suitable one for your situation.
Cormac Harte M.P.S.I.