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What is Thiamin and what does it do?

Thiamin (also called vitamin B1) helps turn the food you eat into the energy you need. Thiamin is important for the growth, development, and function of the cells in your body.

Thiamin (or thiamine) is one of the water-soluble B vitamins. It is also known as vitamin B1. Thiamin is naturally present in some foods, added to some food products, and available as a dietary supplement. This vitamin plays a critical role in energy metabolism and, therefore, in the growth, development, and function of cells [1].

Ingested thiamin from food and dietary supplements is absorbed by the small intestine through active transport at nutritional doses and by passive diffusion at pharmacologic doses [1]. Most dietary thiamin is in phosphorylated forms, and intestinal phosphatases hydrolyze them to free thiamin before the vitamin is absorbed [1]. The remaining dietary thiamin is in free (absorbable) form [1,2]. Humans store thiamin primarily in the liver, but in very small amounts [3]. The vitamin has a short half-life, so people require a continuous supply of it from the diet.

How much Thiamin do I need?

The amount of thiamin you need depends on your age and sex. Average daily recommended amounts are listed below in milligrams (mg).



  Birth to 6 months

0.2 mg  

  Infants 7–12 months

0.3 mg  

  Children 1–3 years

0.5 mg  

  Children 4–8 years

0.6 mg  

  Children 9–13 years

0.9 mg  

  Teen boys 14–18 years

1.2 mg  

  Teen girls 14–18 years

1.0 mg  


1.2 mg  


1.1 mg  

  Pregnant teens and women

1.4 mg  

  Breastfeeding teens and women

1.4 mg  

What happens if I don’t get enough Thiamin?

You can develop thiamin deficiency if you don’t get enough thiamin in the foods you eat or if your body eliminates too much or absorbs too little thiamin.

Thiamin deficiency can cause loss of weight and appetite, confusion, memory loss, muscle weakness, and heart problems. Severe thiamin deficiency leads to a disease called beriberi with the added symptoms of tingling and numbness in the feet and hands, loss of muscle, and poor reflexes. Beriberi is not common in the United States and other developed countries.

A more common example of thiamin deficiency in the United States is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which mostly affects people with alcoholism. It causes tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, severe memory loss, disorientation, and confusion.

What are some effects of Thiamin on health?

Scientists are studying thiamin to better understand how it affects health. Here are some examples of what this research has shown.


People with diabetes often have low levels of thiamin in their blood. Scientists are studying whether thiamin supplements can improve blood sugarlevels and glucose tolerance in people with type 2 diabetes. They are also studying whether benfotiamine (a synthetic form of thiamin) supplements can help with nerve damage caused by diabetes.



Many people with heart failure have low levels of thiamin. Scientists are studying whether thiamin supplements might help people with heart failure.



Scientists are studying the possibility that thiamin deficiency could affect the dementia of Alzheimer’s disease. Whether thiamin supplements may help mental function in people with Alzheimer’s disease needs further study.

Can Thiamin be harmful?

Thiamin has not been shown to cause any harm.

Where can I find out more about Thiamin?

For general information on thiamin:
o Office of Dietary Supplements Health Professional Fact Sheet on Thiamin
o Thiamin, MedlinePlus®
For more information on food sources of thiamin:
o Office of Dietary Supplements Health Professional Fact Sheet on Thiamin
o U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) FoodData Central
o Nutrient List for thiamin (listed by food name or by nutrient content), USDA
For more advice on choosing dietary supplements:
• For information about building a healthy dietary pattern:


1. Said HM. Thiamin. In: Coates PM, Betz JM, Blackman MR, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. 2nd ed. London and New York: Informa Healthcare; 2010:748-53.

2. Bettendorff L. Thiamin. In: Erdman JW, Macdonald IA, Zeisel SH, eds. Present Knowledge in Nutrition. 10th ed. Washington, DC: Wiley-Blackwell; 2012:261-79.

3. Bemeur C, Butterworth RF. Thiamin. In: Ross AC, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, Tucker KL, Ziegler TR, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 11th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014:317-24.

4. Health information data from U.S. National Institutes of Health

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