Number One Vitamin
Isolated and characterized in the 1930's, thiamin was one of the first organic compounds to be recognized as a vitamin. Thiamin, also known as Vitamin B1, is a water-soluable vitamin important for releasing the energy stored in carbohydrates and the creation of an important chemical used by the nervous system.
Essential to the Nervous System
Thiamin is needed for energy metabolism, in particular the release of energy from carbohydrates.
Thiamin is essential for the normal functioning of the nervous system, helps regulate appetite and supports normal muscle function, including the heart muscle. A thiamin deficiency results in the disease beriberi.
Thiamin deficiency is rare in the US, except with chronic alcoholism. Alcohol impairs the absorption and storage of thiamin. Thiamin deficiency is associated with some of the symptoms of alcoholism such as mental confusion, visual disturbances and staggering gait.
Beriberi, the disease resulting from severe thiamin deficiency, was described in Chinese literature as early as 2600 B.C. Thiamin deficiency affects the cardiovascular, nervous, muscular, and gastrointestinal systems.
Other symptoms include mental confusion, muscle weakness, paralysis, cramps, and anorexia. Beriberi has been termed dry, wet, and cerebral, depending on the systems affected by severe thiamin deficiency Beriberi can affect the cardiovascular system and the nervous system.
An interesting property of Thiamin is that unlike other vitamins and minerals, your need for Thiamin increases as your caloric intake increases. The National Research Council recommends half a milligram per 1,000 Calories as a safe daily intake. (Resource: National Research Council. Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th Edition. Washington: 1989.)
Sources of Thiamin
Because most of the thiamin is lost during the production of white flour and polished (milled) rice, white rice and foods made from white flour (e.g., bread and pasta) are fortified with thiamin.
A varied diet should provide most individuals with adequate thiamin to prevent deficiency. The U.S. RDA for thiamin is 1.5 milligrams per day.
See also: Vitamin B1
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