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Thiamine hydrochloride, also known as vitamin B1, is a vitamin that occurs on its own in many different foods, or is combined with other B vitamins in a B-complex supplement. This vital nutrient serves several important functions in the body, including assisting in nerve conduction and digestion. A thiamine deficiency can become life threatening, especially if it is a chronic condition. The body doesn’t store thiamine, and the supply taken in through food only lasts about two weeks, so it is very important to take in the vitamin regularly as part of a balanced diet.
Naturally occurring sources of thiamine hydrochloride include whole grains, seeds and nuts, beef and pork products, and milk. When grains are processed into white bread, the thiamine is stripped out, so some manufacturers add it back in by fortifying the product. Thiamine hydrochloride may also be found in supplement form, either on its own or with other vitamins. While naturally occurring thiamine is best for the body, physicians may recommend supplements to those who are severely lacking the nutrient.
When the body does not receive an adequate supply of thiamine hydrochloride, a condition called “beriberi” can occur. In the United States and other developed countries, many foods are fortified with thiamine, so the condition is rare in those who eat a balanced diet. However, it is common among heavy drinkers and alcoholics, because alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to store and use the nutrient. Alcoholics who stop drinking suddenly can go through severe withdrawal symptoms that may include seizures or death, and most hospitals hook patients up to intravenous lines containing thiamine in a saline solution to help counteract such seizures.
A lack of thiamine hydrochloride can also lead to a condition called Wernicke-Karsokoff. The syndrome actually consists of two separate conditions. Wernicke’s encephalopathy causes swelling in the brain, which leads to confusion and loss of coordination. Karsokoff syndrome affects the part of the brain that stores memories. Those with this disorder often make up stories to fill in the missing blanks in their memory. Alcoholism is a major contributing factor to the thiamine deficiency that causes Wernicke-Karsakoff syndrome.
Consuming large amounts of certain foods can interfere with the body’s ability to use thiamine. For example, chemicals called tannins, found in tea and coffee, can alter thiamine to an unusable state in the body. Taking vitamin C may counteract this effect. Raw fish, particularly shellfish, can also render thiamine unusable. Cooked fish, however, seems to be safe.
While thiamine found in natural sources rarely causes any side effects, supplements tend to be more concentrated and can cause certain unwanted effects. The most common are itchiness, nausea, and anxiousness. Taking too much thiamine hydrochloride can be just as dangerous as not getting enough, and may cause death, so it is best to speak with a physician before starting supplements.