A vitamin B1 deficiency is a health problem that develops when the body does not have sufficient amounts of the vitamin. Also called thiamine, vitamin B1, is essential to the nervous system and the human fuel system. This vitamin is responsible for helping the body metabolize carbohydrates, or sugar. People derive their physical and mental energy, or fuel, from the sugar in their bloodstreams. Without this conversion aid, energy levels and nerve functions can be adversely affected.
Deficiency generally results from a diet that contains insufficient amounts of vitamin B1. Since it is a water soluble vitamin, the body does not store the portions of the vitamin it does not use. This means that to maintain healthy levels, people must give their bodies a regular supply.
Vitamin B1 deficiency is most common in developing countries, where people may survive mostly on items such as polished rice or unfortified white flour. In industrialized countries, people are often spared because there is a wide range of foods at their disposal and because many of those foods are fortified with vitamin B1. This vitamin can be found in items suitable for vegetarians, such whole grain cereals, beans and nuts. It can also be found in meat such as duck and pork.
In the United States, although it is rare, vitamin B1 deficiency can be found among alcoholic adults. This is because alcohol is believed to block thiamine, meaning heavy drinkers need to consume more of the vitamin than an average person. Also, many people with alcohol problems have poor eating habits and may consume large amounts of alcohol and little food.
A vitamin B1 deficiency can have a number of negative effects on the body. A person may suffer from a mood disorder, such as depression. She may experience insomnia, anxiety, and memory loss. She may also suffer with gastrointestinal disorders.
Severe cases can result in beriberi, a disease that can have more severe effects. A person with beriberi may be confused. She may suffer with symptoms such as lung congestion and an enlarged heart. Pain, paralysis and muscle wasting are also possible.
Vitamin B1 is absorbed through the intestines. If a person has an absorption problem, a deficiency can result. There are people who suffer from genetic beriberi. When this is the case, it is usually degenerative and does not become obvious until the person is an adult.