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Know Your ABC’s: Vitamin of the Month

By: Robin Amylon

Last month we discussed our first water-soluble vitamin, Vitamin C. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, only small amounts of water-soluble vitamins are stored in the body as excess amounts are lost in the urine. The majority of the water-soluble vitamins are B-vitamins. There are 8 B-vitamins: Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, Vitamin B-6, Folate and Vitamin B-12. All B-vitamins form coenzymes, which are small, organic molecules that are a type of cofactor. Cofactors combine with inactive enzymes to form active enzymes that are able to catalyze specific reactions in the body. All 8 B-vitamins participate in energy metabolism so the need for them increases with higher amounts of physical activity. This month we will take a closer look at the B-vitamin Thiamine, also known as Vitamin B-1.

Thiamine helps your cells produce energy from carbohydrates. The coenzyme thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP) is required for the metabolism of carbohydrates and branched-chain amino acids. Most cells in the body depend on glucose as an energy source. The process of aerobic energy production (when oxygen is used to convert glucose into energy) cannot take place without adequate supplies of Thiamine. Thiamine is part of an enzyme system (called the pyruvate dehydrogenase system) that enables oxygen-based processing of glucose. Since its main role is the conversion of carbohydrates into energy, Thiamine is important for the function of every cell in the body. Some cells use substantially more energy than others, such as those in the muscles, skin and nervous system, so these cells are much more Thiamine dependent.

Thiamine plays a key role in supporting the nervous system. It helps with the development of the fat-like coverings that surround most nerves (called myelin sheaths). Without Thiamine, these coverings can degenerate or become damaged. Pain, prickly sensations, and nerve deadening are nerve-related symptoms that can result from Thiamine deficiency.

Thiamine is also important for the nervous system because of its role in the production of the messaging molecule acetylcholine. This molecule, called a neurotransmitter, is used by the nervous system to relay messages between the nerves and muscles to enable muscle contraction. Acetylcholine cannot be produced without adequate supplies of Thiamine. Because acetylcholine is used by the nervous system to ensure proper muscle tone in the heart, Thiamine deficiency can also result in compromised heart function.


Thiamine may play a role in the prevention and/or treatment of the following health conditions:

  •  Alcoholism
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Depression
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Korsakoff’s psychosis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Wernicke’s encephalopathy

Thiamine deficiency is much less common today than it was years ago but still occurs among those in developing countries. Thiamine deficiency causes a disease called beriberi. Since Thiamine deficiency impairs the nervous, muscle, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems, those with beriberi are very weak. Symptoms include weight loss, anorexia, muscle pain and tenderness, poor memory, confusion, Wernicke’s encephalopathy (impaired sensory perception), weakness and pain in the limbs, periods of irregular heartbeat, and edema (swelling of bodily tissues). The nervous system is especially affected because of its reliance on glucose for energy. Heart failure and death may occur in advanced cases. Chronic Thiamine deficiency can also cause Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes mental confusion, amnesia and impaired short-term memory.

Food sources rich in Thiamine include pork products, sunflower seeds and legumes. Whole grains, green peas, asparagus, organ meats, peanuts and mushrooms are also good sources. Consuming a variety of foods on a daily basis will ensure you receive adequate amounts of Thiamine.

What’s Up Next Week: American Diabetes Month. Diabetes 101

This Week’s Recipe:  Pork Curry

Try this Thiamine rich recipe for your next meal.


  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 bag baby spinach (~14oz)
  • ½ can coconut milk (7oz)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves (minced)


  • Brown pork in olive oil in a pot large enough to hold the spinach
  • Add curry powder as pork browns, mix well
  • Break up any large lumps of pork
  • Once pork has browned, add spinach and the coconut milk
  • Heat until spinach has cooked down and wilted
  • Add garlic at the end
  • Mix well, remove from heat and serve
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