Vitamin B1 Benefits for Health: From Energy To Gut Protection

Image of the letters vitamin B1 in magnetic colorful letters with a black background for the Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) Supplements Improve Health post by The Healthy RD
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Vitamin B1 benefits the whole body and mind in many ways. Also known as thiamine or benfotiamine, vitamin B1 is an essential nutrient with many surprising health benefits. 

As one of the essential B-vitamins, it is involved in every bodily function, including energy production, nerve function, and metabolism. 

While its classical role is converting food into energy for our bodies to use effectively, thiamine offers numerous other remarkable benefits.  

These health benefits include brain health, pain reduction, reducing diabetes complications, improving cardiovascular function, boosting the immune system, and promoting proper digestion. 

In this blog, learn about the incredible benefits of vitamin B1. Also, learn how to add it into your diet to enhance your overall wellness.

What is Thiamine (Vitamin B1)?

As one of the first discovered vitamins, thiamine has roles in every aspect of your health. This is because thiamine helps convert food into energy. 

But, this is an oversimplified view of what thiamine does. Vitamin B1 helps every function in the body work better.

When used correctly, it can help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases and be used as a safe treatment for daunting conditions such as pain. 

Thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin but is also available in a highly absorbable fat-soluble form called benfotiamine

This critical nutrient is widespread in all foods but is lacking in ultra-processed foods. Additionally, processed foods increase your body’s need for thiamine. 

How Do You Know If You Need Thiamine Supplements?

As it turns out, most people do need a thiamine supplement if they eat a Standard American Diet, have diabetes, are overweight, drink alcohol, or take many common medications. 

Additionally, if you suffer from stress, digestive disorders, low energy, heart disease, or neurological disorders, adding in thiamine may be just what the doctor ordered. 

Sadly, common signs and symptoms of low thiamine are mistaken for other problems, so thiamine deficiency is almost universally overlooked. 

But, you may notice some of the following if you are low in thiamine:

  • Fatigue, weakness, or irritability 
  • Poor appetite or weight loss
  • Digestive issues
  • Nerve damage-related problems 
  • Chronic diseases in general

The next sections are an in-depth review of the research about thiamine and how it can help almost every aspect of your health. 

Did you know that if you drink soda, it increases your risk of a severe lung disease called pulmonary hypertension along with heart failure? This is because sugar depletes thiamine

Vitamin B1 Benefits: Improving Energy Levels

Graphic of vitamin B1 in a yellow bubble on a white background for the How Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) Supplements Improve Health post by The Healthy RD

Vitamin B1 benefits the body because it helps convert carbohydrates into glucose, which is the body’s main source of energy. In other words, thiamine is critical for improving metabolism. 

The hallmark role of vitamin B1 as thiamine is to metabolize glucose into energy

But as you can imagine, eating processed carbohydrates increases your body’s demands for thiamine, but are devoid of thiamine. 

This is part of why eating junk foods and sweets ultimately makes you more tired. 

To harness the most benefits from thiamine, cutting out processed foods, sweet drinks, and packaged foods including breads helps to improve your thiamine levels. 

You can also take a thiamine supplement to help support healthy energy levels in the body. 

Thiamine in the form of tetrahydrofurfuryl disulfide (TTFD) improves exercise endurance and strength according to research.

Did you know that cultures who depended on eating rice as a major food staple in the past were at the highest risk for thiamine deficiency? This condition is called beriberi. Beriberi killed people unabated until the ability to make thiamine for supplementation. 

Improving Brain and Nerve Health

A lack of thiamine unquestionably causes memory issues. So it makes sense that supplementing thiamine may improve memory and brain function. Vitamin B1 benefits the brain in many ways.

Research shows that it does.

For example, people recovering from alcoholism were given 300 mg of thiamine for a week followed by 100 mg of thiamine for a week to improve memory and cognitive function. To sum it up, thiamine worked to improve memory. 

Blood thiamine levels are also positively related to memory in hospitalized patients. People with memory loss or dementia tended to have low thiamine levels across the board. 

Even in healthy people, thiamine improves aspects of the brain, including reaction time. 

While not all research shows that thiamine is helpful in Alzheimer’s disease, most research done in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease shows a benefit of thiamine supplementation for memory. 

Thiamine may also help other neurological conditions such as sleep disturbances, Parkinson’s disease, mental confusion, and neuropathy. 

Low levels of thiamine also may cause improper development and/or breakdown of nervous system tissue.

Early research even suggests that thiamine may help reduce the symptoms of autism

Vitamin B1 Benefits: Helps Heart Health

The heart is a muscle that requires energy and as you may recall, thiamine helps the body make energy. 

So it isn’t a big surprise that thiamine may help heart function. For example, in people with heart failure, thiamine helped improved heart function as measured by left ventricular ejection fraction. 

Let’s learn some more ways that Vitamin B1 benefits the heart.

Thiamine deficiency is also fairly common in heart failure and occurs in at least 20 percent but can be up to 98 percent of people with heart failure. People who are older or who are on diuretic medications or who have other complicating conditions are more likely to have thiamine deficiency. 

In children with congenital heart diseases, thiamine deficiency is very common. 

Vitamin B1 helps maintain a healthy cardiovascular system by supporting normal heart function by providing it energy. It may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease because it may reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the heart and blood vessels. 

Thiamine is required to make the enzyme responsible for making nitric oxide, an anti-inflammatory compound.

Last but not least, a classical sign of Beriberi, or thiamine deficiency, is heart failure. 

Vitamin B1 Benefits: Reducing Pain

Graphic of two emojis demonstrating pain with subsequent pain relief with yellow arrows pointing towards pain relief by The Healthy RD

Thiamine isn’t just a nutrient. At therapeutic doses, it can help control daunting pain issues in the body. 

Here are some examples of how thiamine helps with pain issues in the body. 

Back Pain-five studies have shown that supplemental thiamine along with vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 reduce lower back pain better than using diclofenac alone. By the way, diclofenac is an NSAID drug. 

Menstrual Pain-Using thiamine at 100 mg per day also helps reduce menstrual pain also known as dysmenorrhea. It usually takes about 2 months to have full effect. 

Fibromyalgia-Early research also points to the ability of thiamine to reduce the pain of fibromyalgia. In this case, very high doses of thiamine were used at 1800 mg per day. 

Nerve pain is nearly impossible to manage with medications. Interestingly, early research in mice shows that high doses of thiamine may reduce nerve pain. While more research is needed, using thiamine for neuropathy has no known toxicity.  

It is clear that Vitamin B1 benefits many pain issues.

Related post: Essential Oils for Nerve Pain

Thiamine Improves Gut Health 

Thiamine has some fascinating benefits for gut health. Vitamin B1 benefits just about every aspect of digestion!

First, it helps improve gut healing fats called butyrate and acetate. 

Second, thiamine helps improve the microbiome.

Third, it may help heal a leaky gut.  

Fourth, thiamine reduces fatigue in people with inflammatory bowel diseases. Multiple studies have confirmed that thiamine is useful for improving energy levels in people with diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.  

Thiamine helps improve gut motility in the stomach and small intestine by increasing acetylcholine production.  It also may improve vagal tone. 

Also, thiamine helps the stomach make stomach acid which helps speed up stomach emptying. Too little of thiamine leads to a condition of low stomach acid called hypochlorhydria. 

Because of this, low thiamine levels can lead to acid reflux and GERD. 

Thiamine deficiency also causes a severe reduction in the ability to make pancreatic enzymes. A lack of enzymes can cause indigestion, poor nutrient absorption, gas, bloating, and pain.

The gallbladder also needs thiamine to work properly, and without enough thiamine, the bile may not flow properly. 

Perhaps all of this is why thiamine deficiency is a cause of gastroparesis and treating with thiamine deficiency can reverse it in some cases. 

Related post: Cinnamon for Acid Reflux?

Thiamine for Immunity

As a source of energy for most cells, thiamine also plays a role in keeping the immune system healthy. Immune cells including T-regulatory cells, resting macrophages, and naïve T-cells all rely on thiamine to help fuel them. 

Low thiamine levels also likely compromise a healthy immune system

In critically ill patients with infection, 70% of patients have thiamine deficiency. 


The immune system generally responds better with adequate levels of any nutrient, including thiamine. An animal study demonstrated that thiamine deficiency leads to an impaired immune response.

Vitamin B1 Benefits: Reduces Diabetes Complications

Graphic of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in pink and blue in test tubes for the Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) benefits post by The Healthy RD

Thiamine’s main role in the body is involved in glucose metabolism, so as you can imagine, it plays a role in preventing and reducing issues with diabetes. 

Vitamin B1 benefits diabetes in some striking ways. Here are some examples.

Using a thiamine supplement that is fat-soluble called benfotiamine resulted in less neuropathy related to their diabetes. Additionally, their glucose numbers improved as shown by a reduction in hemoglobin A1C. 

To further support the importance of thiamine in diabetes patients, both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients have a high incidence of thiamine deficiency. 

The proportion of people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who have low thiamine ranges from 17% to 79%. Studies have found that increasing Vitamin B1 intake through supplementation decreases the severity of symptoms associated with early-stage diabetes.

Thiamine may even reduce the risk of kidney damage due to diabetes called nephropathy. Pilot research shows that thiamine supplementation reduces the spilling of protein in the urine called microalbuminuria. This is important because protein spilling increases the risk of kidney disease

High doses of fat soluble thiamine known as benfotiamine also decreased nerve pain associated with diabetes in a randomized controlled trial. 

Supports Healthy Skin, Hair, and Nails

As a source of energy for cells, including skin cells, nails, and hair cells, thiamine helps protect the skin and even helps the body make collagen. Additionally, it may help improve wound healing time. 

Adequate intake of vitamin B1 leads to healthier skin complexion, stronger hair follicles, and improved nail growth in other words. 

Another skin perk of thiamine supplements is that it may reduce the chance of getting bit by mosquitoes

Reduced Risk of Vision Loss

Studies have suggested that vitamin B1 may help prevent age-related eye conditions like cataracts due to its antioxidant properties. Along with other B vitamins and vitamin C, thiamine plays a role in maintaining eye health

A rare but serious form of eye disease called optic neuropathy causes vision loss. Identification of thiamine deficiency and treatment of the condition with thiamine improved eyesight in one case report. 

People who have weight loss surgeries like bariatric surgery are at risk for many vitamin deficiencies, including thiamine deficiency. Vision loss with these surgeries is a red flag that you may have a thiamine deficiency according to research. 

Reduces Anxiety and Depression

Vitamin B1 is involved in making neurotransmitters like serotonin that regulate mood; thus, it may help reduce stress and anxiety symptoms. 

Research in animals demonstrates that low thiamine levels can cause anxiety. A small clinical study found that supplemental thiamine reduced symptoms of anxiety, improved energy, and increased appetite in people with generalized anxiety disorder

Thiamine deficiency increases the chances of having a depressed mood. 

Fascinatingly, thiamine supplements result in reduced depression symptoms in young adults with major depression.  

Using thiamine may even reduce aggressive behaviors although more research is needed. 

Vitamin B1 Benefits: Helps People With Kidney Disease

Graphic of healthy kidneys for the Thiamine (vitamin b1) benefits post by The Healthy RD

End-stage renal disease requires that people receive dialysis to extend their lives.

Thiamine deficiency occurs in this group of patients very frequently due to the losses of dialysis.  A type of dialysis called peritoneal dialysis causes direct losses of thiamine through the dialysis fluids. Hemodialysis also causes a loss of thiamine. 

Further, thiamine in the form of benfotiamine may protect the peritoneal membrane from damage and even help preserve remaining kidney function. 

Some research even shows that thiamine may reduce the progression of kidney disease by reducing the amount of protein that is spilled in the urine in people with diabetes. 

Related post: Kidney Cleanse Diet

How to Supplement Thiamine

Thiamine has no known toxicity so it is safe in all forms and doses. 

Effective doses vary based on the severity of thiamine deficiency.

Research has used therapeutic doses between 100 mg to 1500 mg per day with high doses being most effective for pain conditions like fibromyalgia. 

If you use the fat-soluble form called benfotiamine, doses have been safely used up to 600 mg per day. 

Some research demonstrates that the TTFD form of thiamine is highly effective for increasing exercise endurance. This is sold in a supplement called Thiamax.

Precautions

Thiamine is safe in supplement form and no toxicity has been observed with thiamine supplements according to WebMD. 

Side effects could include nausea if you take thiamine supplements on an empty stomach, so you should take thiamine with food. 

Summary

Thiamine is an essential nutrient and cofactor in essentially every aspect of health. It plays a central role in nerve health, eye health, gut health, and immunity. It may even improve memory and heart health. 

By avoiding processed foods and supplementing thiamine as vitamin B1 or benfotiamine, you can assure that you are getting enough thiamine to give your body the natural energy it needs. Make sure to get an adequate amount of all nutrients as well by taking a natural multivitamin and mineral supplement.

As with anything, discuss the supplements you are taking with your healthcare provider. 

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