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Last updated April 28, 2017, originally published January 20, 2016
By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Chances are, you've never really thought much about thiamine.
Thiamine? What's that? Thiamine is one of the B vitamins, specifically
Vitamin B-1. But, increasingly, scientists have begun to notice
something intriguing. In populations around the world where thiamine
levels are low, depression levels are high. And the reverse is true. In
populations where thiamine levels are high, depression levels are low.
Thiamine -- A Super Vitamin Hiding in Plain Sight
Scientists have long known that thiamine deficiency is associated with
cognitive decline. For example, thiamine deficiency in humans can cause
irreversible neurological damage ( Wernicke’s encephalopathy) or
damage to the nerves of your hands and legs ( peripheral neuropathy).
A derivative of thiamine called "benfotiamine" slows the cognitive
decline of Alzheimer's disease in mice, according to a 2010 study from
Zhongshan Hospital & Shanghai Medical College.
A 2002 study from Weil Medical College, Cornell University, led by Dr. G.
E. Gibson found that the processes in the brain which depend on
thiamine are diminished in people with several neuro-degenerative
diseases. In 2007, Dr, Gibson's team pinpointed the cause ---both
thiamine deficiency and disease such as Alzheimer's have two things in
common --- reduced metabolism of glucose in the brain and increased
In addition to protecting your brain, thiamine may be useful in
preventing other life-threatening conditions such as cardiovascular
disease. About 33% of all patients hospitalized for congestive heart
failure are deficient in thiamine, a 2006 study from St. Michael's
Hospital, Toronto found. Only 12% of patients who did not have
congestive heart failure only had thiamine deficiency. Subject to further
research, this would suggest that thiamine deficiency may put you at an
almost 3 times higher risk for heart failure.
In developed countries, thiamine deficiency is most often associated
with chronic alcohol consumption or alcoholism.
Foods Rich in Thiamine
Clearly, your brain relies on thiamine for essential glucose metabolism.
So, which foods provide this essential nutrient? Thiamine is a trace
nutrient which is stored in tiny amounts in your liver. Without daily
replenishment, your body simply runs out of thiamine. Men over 18
need 1.2 mg of thiamine a day, according to the US Institute of
Medicine of the National Academies.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Institutes of Health has
not established an upper limit for the amount of thiamine you may take
daily. Nonetheless, you should never take any Vitamin dosage above
the 1.2 mg per day without a doctor's advice.
Fortunately, a broad range of foods contain thiamine. Cereals in the US
fortified with thiamine have 1.5 mg per 100 gram serving. A cup of
long grain boiled rice has 1.4 mg. A pork chop has 0.4 mg, as does a
half a cup of black beans or a 3 ounces of trout. A cup of orange juice,
a cup of yogurt or a cup of 2% milk each has .2 mg of thiamine.
The Thiamine Connection --Can It Cure Depression?
In 2012, a group of scientists in China studied the nutritional status of
1,587 elderly people living in a community home to see if they could
fins a connection between the levels of depression and the levels of
As a whole, 11.3% of the elderly were depressed. Those elderly with
the lowest blood levels of thiamine were almost 3 times more likely
92.97) to suffer from depression than those with the highest levels of
As was the case with the earlier ground-breaking studies from Cornell
University in New York, the China study again observed that thiamine
probably influenced the brain both by affecting the metabolism of
glucose in the brain and also by increasing the amount of oxidative
stress the brain experiences.
They are noted another possible link. Thiamine helps to synthesize
many neurotransmitters including acetylcholine, γ-aminobutyrate,
glutamate, aspartate, and serotonin.
What's startling is that these same neurotransmitters are targeted by
So, it appears that thiamine may be acting as a sort of natural anti-
The exact way that thiamine arrests depression is not yet understood.
What these studies do not suggest is that, if you suffer from
depression, that you can ditch your antidepressives for thiamine, and
just start eating more thiamine rich pork chops or cereals. Instead, the
sensible use of this information is to share it with your doctor to see if
increasing your thiamine levels may help to manage your depression.
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|Pork chops are rich in thiamine.