What Does Thiamine Do To Your Body & What Happens When You are Thiamine Deficient?

Thiamine is the other name for Vitamin B1. It is an important vitamin that is essential for our body. Now, what exactly does thiamine do to your body and what happens when you are thiamine deficient? To know about this, read the following array of the article. Hope you will find this quite beneficial.

What Does Thiamine Do To Your Body?

Thiamine or vitamin B1 is a water-soluble vitamin that is found in virtually every cell in our body. Water soluble vitamins are stored in the body in limited amounts. These vitamins leave the body through the urine. So, it is a great idea to have them in our regular diet. Thiamine or vitamin B1 is found in foods and is also available as a supplement and by prescription as an injection.

Now, what does thiamine do to your body? Thiamine or vitamin B1 is a crucial nutrient for taking energy from food and for turning it into energy for the brain, heart and the nerves. Thiamine is required to make ATP or Adenosine triphosphate, which is the main energy-carrying molecule of the body.

Thiamine is needed by the body to process carbohydrates, proteins, and fats; but it is most important for how we process carbohydrates.

Thiamine also is responsible for improving the brain and memory functions.

What Happens When You are Thiamine Deficient?

There are some symptoms experienced in individuals who have thiamine deficiency. So, what happens when you have thiamine deficiency? Read below to know about them.

There Is A Loss Of Appetite With Thiamine Deficiency:

When you have thiamine deficiency, you experience a loss of appetite or anorexia. Scientists believe that thiamine or vitamin B1 plays a crucial role in the regulation of satiety. The vitamin helps control the “Satiety center” located in the hypothalamus of our brain.

When there is a deficiency in thiamine of vitamin B1, normal action of the “Satiety center” is altered, resulting in the body to feel satiated or full, even when it may not be full. This can lead to a lack of appetite.

You May Experience Fatigue If You Have Thiamine Deficiency:

A person having thiamine deficiency may experience fatigue gradually or all of a sudden. It can range from a slight decrease in the energy to extreme exhaustion, likely depending on the severity of deficiency.

Many studies have found the link associated between thiamine deficiency and fatigue in individuals.

There May Be Irritability Due To Thiamine Deficiency:

A person suffering from thiamine deficiency may experience irritability, which is the feeling of frustration and agitation. When you are irritable, you usually become upset very quickly. So, an irritable mood is noted to be one of the first symptoms of thiamine deficiency and it may occur within days or weeks of the vitamin B1 or thiamine deficiency.
Irritability has been especially documented in cases involving infants having beriberi, or a disease caused by thiamine deficiency.

There Is Tingling Sensation In Arms And Legs:

What more happens if you have thiamine deficiency? Well, there may be abnormal tingling, prickling, burning or the sensation of “pins and needles” in the upper and lower limbs if you have thiamine deficiency. This symptom is also known as paresthesia.

The peripheral nerves that reach your legs and arms heavily rely on the action of thiamine; and in case of thiamine deficiency, peripheral nerve damage and paresthesia can occur. In fact, patients have experienced the symptom in the beginning phases of thiamine deficiency.

Thiamine Deficiency Cause Reduced Reflexes:

Thiamine deficiency can affect the motor nerves. If the condition is left untreated, the damage to your nervous system due to thiamine deficiency can cause changes in your reflexes.

Reduced or absent reflexes of the ankle, knee and triceps are often observed, and as the deficiency progresses, it may affect your coordination and ability to walk.

Thiamine Deficiency Causes Muscle Weakness:

Generalized muscle weakness is common, and the cause of it is generally difficult to determine. Short-term, temporary muscle weakness happens to almost each one of us at some point. However, persistent, long-standing muscle weakness without a clear cause may be sign of thiamine deficiency.

In a lot of cases, patients with thiamine deficiency have experienced muscle weakness. In addition, in these cases, muscle weakness greatly improved after thiamine re-supplementation.

You May Have A Blurry Vision If You Are Thiamine Deficient:

Thiamine deficiency may also result in a blurry vision. Severe cases of thiamine deficiency may cause swelling of the optic nerve, including optic neuropathy. This can cause a blurry or even loss of vision.

There are multiple documented cases that have stated the link between blurry vision and vision loss to severe thiamine deficiency. Moreover, patients’ vision significantly improved after thiamine supplementation.

There Are Changes In Heart Rate:

Our heart rate is a measure of how many times our heart beats per minute. Interestingly, the heart rate can be affected by your thiamine levels. Not enough thiamine or vitamin B1 could result in a slower than normal heartbeat.

An abnormally slow heart rate caused due to thiamine deficiency may result in increased fatigue, dizziness and a greater risk of fainting.

You Experience A Shortness Of Breath With Thiamine Deficiency:

As thiamine deficiency can affect the heart function, shortness of breath may occur, especially with exertion. This is because thiamine deficiency can sometimes cause heart failure, which occurs when the heart becomes less efficient at pumping blood. Ultimately this can result in fluid accumulation in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

It is essential to note that shortness of breath can have several causes, so this symptom alone is usually not a sign of thiamine deficiency.

Thiamine Deficiency May Cause Delirium:

What more can happen when you have thiamine deficiency? Well, there are several studies that have shown that thiamine deficiency is linked with delirium.

Delirium is a serious condition that results in confusion, reduced awareness and an inability to think clearly.

In severe cases, thiamine deficiency can result in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which involves two types of closely related brain damage. The symptoms often include delirium, memory loss, confusion and hallucinations.

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is generally associated with thiamine deficiency caused due to alcohol abuse. However, thiamine deficiency is also common in elderly patients and may contribute to the occurrence of delirium.

Thiamine Deficiency May Cause Nausea And Vomiting:

Although gastrointestinal symptoms are less common with thiamine deficiency, they can still occur in many cases. It is not exactly understood, why digestive symptoms may manifest with thiamine deficiency; however documented cases of gastrointestinal symptoms have been resolved after the supplementation of thiamine.

Vomiting and nausea may be more common in infants with the deficiency in thiamine, as it was found to be a common symptom in infants who consumed thiamine-deficient, soy-based formula.


All tissues of our body require thiamine or vitamin B1 to function properly. Most people get enough thiamine from their food. However, certain medical conditions and dietary practices can cancel out the body’s usage of thiamine or vitamin b1. This can result in a thiamine deficiency. In such cases, supplements may be essential. Talk to your doctor before taking any thiamine supplement and also know that you must have the right balance of thiamine or vitamin B in your body.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:November 8, 2018

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