Human beings cannot live without B vitamins and our bodies do not produce them. So, we must get B vitamins from our diets. Vitamin B1 was the first water-soluble vitamin to be described. It was originally called a thio-vitamin, which means “sulfur containing vitamin.”

Thiamine deficiency can result in a condition called “beriberi,” a host of symptoms that can affect the heart, nerves, and digestive system. The condition was first recognized in cultures that ate large amounts of refined rice – also referred to as polished, white or dehusked rice. Thiamine is found in the rice’s husk which is removed in the refining process.

Why do food manufacturers remove this important nutrient? The answer is the same reason why they remove valuable nutrients from flour, salt and oils. Removing these components of carbohydrates reduces spoilage and increases shelf life, thereby increasing profits. Here are three types of thiamine (B1) deficiencies:

  • Wet beriberi – edema, confusion, muscular atrophy, congestive heart failure, enlarged heart and peripheral neuropathy.
  • Dry beriberi – nerve pain, impaired nerve conditions and muscle tenderness, peripheral neuropathy (loss of sensation or pain in the extremities, especially the feet).
  • Infantile beriberi – mother and baby are thiamine deficient, thus the baby can develop tachycardia (fast heart rate), convulsions, and/or vomiting.

Death can occur with any type of beriberi. Thiamine deficiency is still a major problem in today’s world. Thiamine deficiency is thought to be fairly prevalent in people with congestive heart failure. The higher prevalence is thought to result from low thiamine intake and increased urinary losses secondary to diuretic usage (e.g. water pills).

So how do we raise our thiamine levels? First, limit or eliminate sugar from your diet as much as possible. Ingesting large amounts of refined sugar in the form of soda or candy can also predispose you to thiamine deficiency. Second, also limit or eliminate refined foods and carbohydrates from your diet as much as possible. Refined foods and refined carbohydrates can instigate thiamine deficiency as well. The richest source or thiamine (B1) is yeast and whole grains (e.g. whole wheat bread has five times more B1 than unenriched white bread). Other good sources are legumes (lentils), vegetables, unmilled rice, beef, liver and salmon.

Finally, in order to allow your body to absorb more thiamine, it is smart not to drink tea after a meal or to eat foods with high vitamin C content (e.g. citrus) which can inactivate thiamine. Thiamine can be supplemented orally at about 50-100 mg daily to convert low levels. But, you should be tested and under the care of a medical doctor or skilled health professional.