Thiamin, Anorexics, Athletes, and Alcoholics – Book Excerpt of the Week

Thiamin (Vitamin B1) is a popular ingredient in energy drinks, sports supplements, and other “functional” beverages. In last week’s book excerpt, we talked about how thiamin would be a leader if the B-vitamins were all Marvel Avengers, and how thiamin’s role in carbohydrate metabolism makes it an important facilitator in energy production. Thiamin is readily absorbed, readily depleted, and easily excreted, so you can never have too much. But what happens when you don’t get enough? There are different names for thiamin deficiency, depending on how it manifests.

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Anorexics, athletes, and alcoholics may all experience thiamin deficiency, for different reasons. Starvation leads to dry Beriberi. The combination of high carbohydrate intakes and heavy exercise can lead to wet Beriberi. Heavy alcohol use can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Alcohol diminishes thiamin absorption and increases its excretion. Since thiamin is not readily stored, a poor quality diet with heavy alcohol consumption can lead to rapid thiamin depletion and deficiency.

Stay tuned as we look at other B-vitamins in our page-by-page tour through my book on the science of energy drinks and their ingredients.

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Thiamin (vitamin B1), the Avengers, and Beriberi – Book Excerpt of the Week

Energy drinks are often referred to as “concoctions of sugar, caffeine, and B-vitamins”, but some B-vitamins aren’t considered essential or even relevant to energy levels. Obviously they’re all essential to life, but if the B-vitamins were all members of the Avengers, would you know which B-vitamin is like Hulk and which is more like Hawkeye?

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Many vitamins are discovered as “That thing that keeps (something bad) from happening.” In the case of thiamin, the bad thing is a disease called beriberi.

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There are two kinds of beriberi: wet and dry. A diet high in carbohydrates, combined with strenuous physical exertion can use up a significant amount of thiamin, leading to wet beriberi. Insufficient energy from food and inactivity are associated with dry beriberi. Wet beriberi includes an enlarged heart and buildup of excess fluid in intracellular spaces (called “edema”). Dry beriberi includes muscle wasting in addition to impaired sensory, motor, and reflex functions (called “peripheral neuropathy”).

With this book excerpt, you might come to the conclusion that “people are lethargic without thiamin”. While this is true, it’s also misleading.

Thiamin does not give people energy. It’s more of a facilitator than fuel.

Thiamin participates in the metabolism of fat, protein, nucleic acids, and especially carbohydrates. That’s why carbohydrate metabolism is the first to go haywire with thiamin deficiency.

Thiamin is definitely a major player in the B-vitamin Avenger squad, but we’ll get into  (the nerdy, biochemical bits on) WHAT THIAMIN DOES next week as we continue our page by page tour through my book on the science of energy drinks and their ingredients.

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