Thiamin deficiency

Thiamin deficiency is rare in developed countries as refined flours and cereals are often fortified with this vitamin. However, deficiency symptoms are still seen in parts of the world where white rice makes up a major part of the daily diet.

Those at greatest risk of deficiency include some young children and teenagers, stressed adults, those who exercise very heavily, alcoholics, pregnant women, those on fad diets and people suffering from malabsorption diseases. Marginal deficiencies without clinical symptoms may be quite common among these groups. Elderly people are also at risk of thiamin deficiency and this may lead to reduced mental functioning, depression, weakness, suppressed immunity and gastrointestinal problems. Early thiamin deficiency may be easily overlooked as the symptoms are generalized and can include fatigue, depression and stress- induced headaches. There is some evidence to suggest that recurring mouth ulcers are due to thiamin deficiency.

Thiamin deficiencyThiamin deficiency affects every cell in the body. Deficiency symptoms may be due to the interference of nerve functions dependent on thiamin and the build-up of toxic compounds as carbohydrates are incompletely metabolized. Factors which increase the demand for the conversion of carbohydrate to energy; for example, exercise, alcohol and sugary foods; may aggravate thiamin deficiency. Severe thiamin deficiency causes beriberi. Beriberi can affect the cardiovascular system (wet beriberi) and the nervous system (dry beriberi).

Brain and nervous system

One of the earliest signs of thiamin deficiency is reduced stamina. Depression, irritability and reduced ability to concentrate are later followed by fatigue, muscle cramps and various pains. Dry beriberi symptoms include numbness and tingling in the toes and feet, stiffness of the ankles, cramping pains in the legs, difficulty walking, and finally, paralysis of the legs with wasting of the muscles. Permanent damage to the nervous system can occur if the deficiency is not corrected in time. Thiamin deficiency may also be associated with reduced tolerance to pain.

Gastrointestinal system

Thiamin deficiency can also lead to nausea, lack of appetite, weight loss and constipation. Carbohydrate digestion and the metabolism of glucose are diminished

Cardiovascular system

In the advanced stages of thiamin deficiency, the symptoms of wet beriberi include heart enlargement. Symptoms of cardiac failure such as breathlessness, ankle swelling and fatigue may follow. Marginal thiamin deficiency may contribute to heart disease.


Alcoholics and binge drinkers are especially prone to thiamin deficiency as alcohol reduces absorption, alters metabolism and depletes body stores. Alcoholics also tend to have poor diets. Thiamin deficiency is associated with some of the symptoms of alcoholism such as mental confusion, visual disturbances and staggering gait. If thiamin deficiency is not corrected, permanent brain damage may result. This condition is known as Wernicke Korsakoff syndrome and is usually seen in people who have been addicted to alcohol for many years.

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Thiamin Health
Thiamin Absorption
Thiamin Deficiency
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