Thiamine: Not Just Another B Vitamin

By Bonnie Fields

Thiamine, also called vitamin B1, was the first vitamin to be identified and used therapeutically. It is the granddaddy of the "nerve" vitamins because it is essential to the proper function of the central nervous system. Low thiamine levels can result in nearly any nervous system manifestation, such as depression, tension, confusion, difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity, disorientation, and numbness in the arms or legs. Early signs of thiamine deficiency include irritability, frequent headaches, and unusual fatigue, which can all be prevented with a good thiamine supplement.

Thiamine also acts as a co-enzyme necessary for the oxidation of pyruvic acid—an important part of the process of metabolizing carbohydrates. In fact, thiamine plays a pivotal role in the metabolism of glucose as well. The ingestion of an excessive amount of refined simple carbohydrates, such as sodas, fruit juices, sugary snacks, etc. automatically increases our need for thiamine.

A number of naturally occurring compounds produce anti-thiamine activity and anti-thiamine factors, like thiaminase enzymes. Thiaminase enzymes are found in tea, brussels sprouts, red cabbage, mussels, oysters, and urinary thiamine levels are reduced when a person consumes coffee.

In his articles "A Review of the Biochemistry, Metabolism, and Clinical Benefits of Thiamine and its Derivatives," and "Thiamine and Magnesium Deficiencies: Keys to Disease", Dr. Derrick Lonsdale gives references that provide insight into the use of thiamine in clinical conditions not usually associated with nutritional deficiency. He believes that "the therapeutic potential of thiamine is largely untapped" and writes that "thiamine supplementation is a promising adjuvant therapy for patients with diabetes, a disease in which there is evidence of altered thiamine metabolism.

Thiamine deficiency has been implicated in restrictive weight loss surgery, in the use of parenteral nutrition, optic neuropathy, anorexia nervosa, and congestive heart failure." Dr. Lonsdale also points out that "the initial symptoms of thiamine deficiency beriberi are those of dysautonomia, a broad term that describes any disease or malfunction of the autonomic nervous system." He further cites references showing that "High dose thiamine improves symptoms of fibromyalgia, Freidreich's ataxia, Parkinson's disease, and in biotinthiamin responsive basal ganglia disease, suggesting the expanding role of epigenetics."

In his book "The Natural Way to a Trouble-Free Pregnancy: The Toxemia/Thiamine Connection," Dr. John B. Irwin explains that thiamine supplementation, preconceptually and throughout pregnancy, is as important as folic acid supplementation, but is often overlooked.

However, there is an important difference in thiamine supplements on the market. Thiamine hydrochloride, the most common form of vitamin B1 found in most multi-vitamins and B complex formulas, is water soluble; therefore, has a rate-limited capacity of absorption. In contrast, fat-soluble thiamine or thiamine tetrahydrofurfuryl disulfide (TTFD), sometimes referred to as allithiamines, easily diffuses through plasma membranes, which strongly increases thiamine activity throughout our blood stream, red blood cells, cerebrospinal fluid, and urine.

It is especially significant that TTFD increases thiamine levels in the brain. TTFD sharply elevates circulating thiamine and peak thiamine activity is reached in 1 to 3 hours. The allithiamines are absorbed without limit and owe their good absorption, rapid tissue transference to their fat-solubility, and ease of transport across the intestinal wall. Although there are other fat-soluble thiamine derivatives on the market, research has shown that the allithiamines' disulfide bond is the key factor in facilitating penetration of the cell membrane and increasing thiamine levels in the brain.

TTFD is the active ingredient in Ecological Formulas' Allithiamine and Lipothiamine. Both supplements contain 50 mg of TTFD; however, lipothiamine has an enteric coated delivery system and also contains 7.5 mg of Alpha Lipoic Acid. For additional information about the individualized, clinical use of allithiamine or lipothiamine, we suggest consulting with your integrative health care provider or a NEEDS wellness educator.

A review of journal articles on PubMed show other potential clinical applications of thiamine may include:

• Poly neuropathy

• Demyelinating disorders

• Lactic acidosis

• Metabolic-nutritional neuropathy

• Cognitive health

• Cardiovascular health

• Aid in reduction of A.G.E. (Advanced Glycation End Products)

• Chronic alcohol abuse

• Primary (spasmodic) dysmenorrhea

• Important for individuals taking anticonvulsant medication/ diuretics

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.