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Causes and Symptoms of
Vitamin B1 Deficiency (Thiamine)

There are a number of causes of Vitamin B1 deficiency. The most basic cause is simply a person not consuming foods with enough Vitamin B1, however this is rare in first world countries. Problems with the absorption of Vitamin B1 in the small intestines can also result in a deficiency. One of the most common reasons this happens is consuming too much alcohol, however, there are a number of diseases that can result in a condition where Thiamine is not absorbed correctly. Symptoms related to low levels of energy in the person are the most common since energy production in the cells requires vitamin B1. The proper functioning of brain cells requires large amounts of energy making the effects quite dramatic and very visible when normal brain functioning is impaired by a lack of energy.

Vitamin B1 deficiency has a number of basic symptoms associated with it. Supplementation or an increase in vitamin B1 nutritional levels can typically reverse the symptoms quickly. The initial stages of cellular starvation are the cause of most symptoms. The energy required to function is no longer present in the cells. Memory loss, irritability and depression frequently occur in individuals with Vitamin B1 deficiency.  A short term deficiency of Vitamin B1 in the muscle cells will lead to muscle tenderness, weakness and fatigue. Symptoms such as slowed reflexes, poor coordination, pins and needles can result in areas throughout the body.  The person will generally feel tired, both mentally and physically.

Vitamin B1 deficiency has three general causes. The foods eaten not containing enough Thiamine is the first cause.  Improper preparation of foods or poor food choices can be the cause of this. The destruction or removal of Vitamin B1 is easy to do accidentally while boiling or cooking.

 The amount of vitamin B1 absorbed from foods can be reduced a great deal by diseases that affect the small intestine.  The over consumption of alcohol is the most common reason for a deficiency of vitamin B1 in the western world. The small intestines are prevented from absorbing a number of nutrients including thiamine by alcohol.

A disease known as Beriberi will result from long term, more severe cases of a deficiency in vitamin B1. Death can result from this severe condition. Emotional imbalances such as anger or depression, pain in the extremities, muscle weakness and extreme weight loss are among Beriberi disease symptoms. Temporary loss of control of the use of arms and legs often occurs. The effect on the heart is the most dangerous part of Beriberi disease; at this severity level, congestive heart failure and death are real possibilities as a result of a deficiency of Vitamin B1.


Korsakoff syndrome and/or Wernicke’s encephalopathy are other conditions that can develop either in association with or individually with Beriberi disease. Impaired sensory perception, amnesia, loss of motor skill control and mental confusion can all result. The patient can become uncontrollable and deranged with these mental conditions. A great deal of the damage cannot be reversed when the deficiency of Thiamine reaches the stages resulting from these disorders and symptoms. It is vital to note that chronic alcohol abuse is the major cause of severe cases of Thiamine deficiency. The  mental symptoms of these disorders are combined with drunkenness in many cases.

A deficiency of vitamin B1 can be caused by either gastrointestinal disease or alcohol presence resulting in the nutrient being improperly absorbed.  In certain parts of the world, there is also a possibility of an inadequate intake of Vitamin B1.  Mild symptoms such as mental confusion or weakness can be present or more severe symptoms such as cardiac arrest or paralysis can be present. Proper nutrition can quickly reverse most symptoms in all but the most serious cases where damage to the internal organs or brain has already occurred.

Reviewed:  Peter Sedesse, MD


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