What Is Thiamin? Why is it important in the body?

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You may have heard about a thiamine deficiency in the past, but what exactly is it? Should you be worried if you have one? What are the symptoms? 
These are all great questions. To start with, understand that thiamine is better known as vitamin B1. This nutrient is required to perform all kinds of essential functions around the body. It take takes energy from food and converts it into energy for the nerves, brain and heart.  
Thiamin is also needed to process carbohydrates, fats and proteins. At its core, it’s required for the development, growth and function of the cells in the body. 

What happens if you don’t get enough Thiamin? 

If you don’t get enough thiamin in your diet, you may develop a thiamin deficiency. This may lead to weight loss, confusion, muscle weakness, cardiovascular symptoms and other problems. Perhaps the most common effect is beriberi. 
Beriberi may lead to shortness of breath, swelling in the lower legs or an increased heart rate. It may also cause paralysis of the legs, vomiting, pain and trouble speaking in some cases. This is a rare condition, and treatment includes thiamin supplements.  
It’s more common to develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which may lead to peripheral neuropathy, psychosis and encephalopathy. 

What happens if a patient isn’t diagnosed with a thiamin deficiency? 

Sometimes, people go a long time without a correct diagnosis, because many foods, like cereals and whole grains, are fortified with thiamin. Some medical conditions could lead to a thiamin deficiency regardless of those supplements. Despite that, the condition is often overlooked.  
If a patient is showing symptoms like shortness of breath or an increased heart rate, other conditions may seem more likely, such as asthma or a heart condition. A simple blood test to check the vitamin and nutrient levels in the body could help prevent a misdiagnosis and help patients get treatment for thiamin deficiency before it becomes too serious. Failing to identify and diagnose this condition could be fatal for some people, and in those cases, the medical providers involved with the patient’s care may be liable for that outcome.