Thiamine: A Wonder Vitamin
In the world of vitamins, the stars are vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin A, boasting the ability to improve everything from skin to eyesight to memory. However, one of the most important vitamins is an unsung hero: vitamin B1, also known as thiamine.
Just as a superhero helps the police discover where criminals are hiding their precious jewels, thiamine aids our body in uncovering the valuable energy stored in our food. To do this, thiamine helps our bodies convert food into glucose, which can then be broken down to provide energy. Have you ever felt energized after eating a meal? Thiamine is the vitamin responsible for that. Until our food is converted into glucose, our bodies are not able to benefit from it very much, or use it as fuel. This energy that thiamine unlocks is key to almost everything our bodies do.
As described by Mayo Clinic, “Thiamine is involved in many body functions, including nervous system and muscle function, the flow of electrolytes in and out of nerve and muscle cells, digestion, and carbohydrate metabolism.” Thiamine can also help reduce the risk of cataracts, kidney disease in people with diabetes, and painful menstruation according to Dr. Rafi Shaik, an IFANCA food scientist. Additionally, as described by Mayo Clinic, thiamine is being used to help treat metabolic disorders that accompany certain genetic conditions such as Leigh’s disease.
Though this is not where the importance of thiamine ends. Researchers believe thiamine still has untapped potential. Mayo Clinic further explains researchers are also studying how to use thiamine to treat alcoholism. The University of Maryland Medical Center also states, “Oral thiamine has been shown to improve cognitive function of patients with Alzheimer. However […] more research is needed before thiamine can be proposed as a treatment for Alzheimer disease.” With the many current and potential benefits of thiamine, it is clear that a lack of it will negatively impact our bodies.
Without Batman, Gotham City takes a turn for the worse, just as our health does without thiamine. When thiamine concentration is low, the cells in our body are deprived of energy, causing fatigue, irritability, and nausea. However, thiamine deficiencies are uncommon, since many countries require certain foods be thiamine fortified. In America, foods made with processed flour must have thiamine added to them, since the natural thiamine, stored in the hull of the grain, is lost in processing. This is why cereals, often made from processed flour, are one of the most common sources of thiamine in America. The National Institutes of Health estimate that Americans get about half their thiamine from fortified foods. However, those in developing nations often do not have access to thiamine fortified foods. The University of Maryland Medical Center explains this leaves them vulnerable to conditions such as Beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, both of which can manifest in many forms, including confusion and shaking. If an increase in thiamine is provided, the effects of both these conditions can be limited.
In addition to cereal, Dr. Mian Riaz, director of Food Protein R&D Center, Texas A&M, says that sunflower and sesame seeds, wheat germ, green peas, lean meat, and nuts (especially cashews, peanuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, and pine nuts) are all recommended sources of thiamine. Foods such as vegetables, fruits, and dairy also contain thiamine, but not in very large quantities. However, the thiamine they provide can be important when eaten in high concentrations, especially for those who are vegetarian and not getting any thiamine from lean meat sources. Making sure enough thiamine-rich sources are consumed is especially important for the elderly, whose bodies are not able to absorb thiamine as efficiently.
It’s important to keep in mind that not all sources of thiamine are equal. A food’s thiamine concentration often decreases as it is heated. This means, meat, which is cooked, does not always have as much thiamine as one would expect.
Thiamine is a vitamin our body does not store, with depletion taking about 14 days, so it is important to make sure you get enough on a regular basis. For those who do not have regular sources of thiamine in their diet, thiamine supplements are another option. However, it is important to make sure the thiamine in your supplements is halal. Dr. Riaz explains, “Most of the grain-based thiamine is halal. But some time during processing the manufacturer may add some additive which may not be halal. Therefore, it is advisable that consumers always ask for halal-certified thiamine.” The safest bet is to look for the Crescent-M on the bottle; then you’ll know your supplements are halal.
Just as a Superman sighting revitalizes Metropolis, reminding the people they have a hero to depend on, thiamine revitalizes our bodies. It restores energy to our cells and gives us the extra push we need to keep going. Thiamine is truly a superhero our bodies need.
Taskeen Khan currently attends UIUC. She has previously written for Huffington Post Teen and Islamic Horizons Magazine. Khan has also won several Silver Keys and honorable mentions in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.