What is vitamin B1 (thiamine)?

Thiamine, which is also known as vitamin B1, is an essential micronutrient, which is required for metabolism, enzymatic processes and conduction of nerve signals. All living organisms use thiamine, but it can be made only in bacteria, fungi and plants. In humans, gastrointestinal microbiota also produces thiamine, but not enough for the organism functioning. Thus, we, as well as other animals must obtain vitamin B1 from the diet.

Thiamine deficiency

Deficiency of thiamine can affect the cardiovascular, nervous and immune systems. A severe and chronic form is known as beriberi. Wet beriberi affects cardiovascular system resulting in tachycardia, high arterial and venous pressures, leg swelling. Dry beriberi affects nervous system resulting in impairment of sensory, motor and reflex functions and altered mental status. Worldwide thiamine deficiency is most widely reported in populations where primary food source are polished rice and grains. In Western countries, it most commonly affects people suffering from alcoholism or chronic illness. Thiamine deficiency in patients with alcohol use disorder often lead to Kosakoff syndrome, a chronic disease with severe memory loss and learning problems.

Food sources of thiamine

It is very easy to add foods rich with thiamine to the diet. Food sources of thiamine include beef, pork, eggs, liver, nuts, oats, oranges, seeds, legumes and yeast. Such foods as rice, pasta, breads, cereals and flour are often fortified with vitamin B1 as the processing involved in creating these products removes thiamine. Thiamine supplements and medications are available on market to treat or prevent thiamine deficiency. Remarkably, B1 is well tolerated and has almost no side effects.

Bioavailable analogues of Thiamine

Analogues of vitamin B1, such as benfotiamine or dibenzoyl thiamine, have improved bioavailability, due to their higher lipid solubility, which facilitate permeation in cell membranes. As a result, they provide higher levels of thiamine in muscle, brain and liver. This can be the reason of their higher effectiveness.

Thiamine as medication

Thiamine was the first of the water-soluble vitamins to be discovered, and since early 20th century it was extensively studied. Most commonly thiamine supplementation is used to treat syndromes associated with severe thiamine deficiency and during pregnancy and lactating due to increased need for this vitamin. Rapid recovery can occur within hours if thiamine is given intravenously. If concentrated thiamine supplements are not available, diets rich with thiamine will also lead to recovery, though at a slower rate.

New properties of thiamine

Recently, other important roles of thiamine including the regulation of oxidative stress were discovered [1]. As emotional stress is associated with oxidative stress in the brain, it was hypothesized that thiamine can counteract negative effects of the stress. And indeed, in studies on mice thiamine precluded negative changes in mood and emotionality, as well as neuroinflammation and oxidative stress caused by stress [2,3]. It also ameliorated cellular proliferation and neurogenesis in the hippocampus under stress conditions. In agreement with animal studies, vitamin B1 was also able to ameliorate symptoms of major depressive disorder in patients [4] or work stress-related mood swings [5].

Thus, thiamine was shown as a promising treatment for the depressive-like changes and excessive aggression, caused by stress. Hopefully, new studies on thiamine will be conducted in the nearest future to show novel properties of this vitamin.



[1]      L. Bettendorff, P. Wins, Biological functions of thiamine derivatives: Focus on non-coenzyme roles, OA Biochem. 1 (2013).

[2]      N. Markova, N. Bazhenova, D.C. Anthony, J. Vignisse, A. Svistunov, K.-P. Lesch, L. Bettendorff, T. Strekalova, Thiamine and benfotiamine improve cognition and ameliorate GSK-3β-associated stress-induced behaviours in mice, Prog. Neuro-Psychopharmacology Biol. Psychiatry. 75 (2017) 148–156.

[3]      A. Gorlova, D. Pavlov, D.C. Anthony, E.D. Ponomarev, M. Sambon, A. Proshin, I. Shafarevich, D. Babaevskaya, K.-P. Lesсh, L. Bettendorff, T. Strekalova, Thiamine and benfotiamine counteract ultrasound-induced aggression, normalize AMPA receptor expression and plasticity markers, and reduce oxidative stress in mice, Neuropharmacology. (2019).

[4]      A. Ghaleiha, H. Davari, L. Jahangard, M. Haghighi, M. Ahmadpanah, M.A. Seifrabie, H. Bajoghli, E. Holsboer-Trachsler, S. Brand, Adjuvant thiamine improved standard treatment in patients with major depressive disorder: results from a randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled clinical trial, Eur. Arch. Psychiatry Clin. Neurosci. 266 (2016) 695–702.

[5]      C. Stough, A. Scholey, J. Lloyd, J. Spong, S. Myers, L.A. Downey, The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B-complex on work stress, Hum. Psychopharmacol. Clin. Exp. 26 (2011) 470–476.


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According to the food and agriculture organization, about 1 billion people in the world were living in hunger or insecurity in the year 2010 (1). Additionally, 5 to 15 % of people in industrial countries experience food insecurity which makes it all the more a public health concern in Europe (2).

But, what exactly is food insecurity about?

Food insecurity means that the access to sufficient food, meeting the dietary and cultural needs and the individual food preferences for a healthy and active life is not possible. It is not only a lack of food, what`s more, is the feeling that the preferred food supply is not available or may be threatened in the future, which has, in turn, an effect on the eating behavior. That means even if food is sufficient, people may be food insecure, but not necessarily undernourished. Two risk groups are students, who do not have the money for buying their preferred food, and refugees, who can´t buy their traditional food in their new home towns. Food insecurity can result in a reduction on micro-and macronutrition intake. Macronutrients are large food components that the body needs to maintain its metabolism; it includes lipids (fats), sugars (carbohydrates) and proteins. Micronutritions, like vitamins, minerals (such as calcium or magnesium), trace elements (such as iron and zinc), are essential because, without them, numerous normal functions such as growth or energy production could not take place.

Effects on mental health

Food insecurity is also found more often in families with low social economic status (4). Researchers have found that food insecurity caused an increase of depression and anxiety symptoms (3). Furthermore the uncertainty of having food in the future produced stress and created desperation and hopelessness in the families. They perceived the situation as shameful and resigned or used drugs and alcohol to compensate. In addition to this ,children from food insecure families were also more likely to develop symptoms of depression/ anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity/inattention (2). However, when you control for many demographical and psychological variables such as immigrant status, family structure and income and paternal depression, only increased impulsive behavior and inattention seem to be specifically linked to food insecurity Another factor is maternal mental health. It has been shown that food insecurity is especially bad for children’s development if the mother has additional mental health problems like depression, domestic violence and psychosis.

Further insights can be derived from Canadian students (5). Here are financial constraints a primary contributing factor. It represents a barrier because often students can´t afford to buy qualitative and expensive food. Another important factor is insufficient time because the effort to buy, prepare and cook healthy meals takes time and requires planning. It may also be the limited access to culturally appropriate food. This could be a barrier especially for people from other countries, who don´t have the opportunity to buy their traditional food and spices in local supermarkets. In urban areas, more exotic and international food supply is possible, due to the higher demand. The consequences for students were feelings of shame, frustration and loneliness. Some have felt socially isolated, and in general the food insecurity was associated with high psychological stress. Nonetheless the students in the reports believed that the situation is temporary and that after university life gets better in terms of food quantity and quality. For now they accepted the current situation.

So overall, food insecurity may occur in different social classes, with different reasons and effects of varying intensity. It`s interesting to see that it can occur in developing countries and rich countries, and that it can have an influence on whole families and children of food insecure families and students. More studies about people with cultural issues (e.g. refugees) are needed.

So, if you have the chance:

Buy the food you prefer and take time for preparing your meal,                      to live your life as healthy as you want it to be!


(1) Cole, S. M.; Gelson, T. (2011). The effect of food insecurity on mental health: Panel evidence from rural Zambia. Social Science & Medicine. 73 (7)1071-1079.

(2) Melchior M.; Chastang J.- F.; Falissard B.; Galera, C.; Tremblay, R.E.; Cote, S.M., Boivin, M. (2012). Food insecurity and children’s mental health: a prospective birth cohort study. PLoS One 7 (12).

(3) Weaver, L. J.; Hadley. C. (2009) Moving Beyond Hunger and Nutrition: A Systematic Review of the Evidence Linking Food Insecurity and Mental Health in Developing Countries, Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 48(4), 263-284.

(4) Melchior, M.; Caspi, A.; Howard, L.M.; Ambler, A.P.; Bolton, H.; Mountain, N; Moffitt, T.E. (2009) Mental health context of food insecurity: a representative cohort of families with young children. Pediatrics, 124 (4).

(5) Hattangadi, N.; Vogel, E.; Carroll, L. J.; Cote, T. (2019). “Everybody I Know Is Always Hungry…But Nobody Asks Why”: University Students, Food Insecurity and Mental Health. Sustainability. 11 (6).

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Represented by a conscious propensity to harm others against their will, aggressiveness is a complex behavior depending on which environmental conditions we have been living in, and the kind of features we have inherited from our ancestors. Humans tend to be an aggressive species.

Among mammals, members of the same species cause only 0.3 percent of deaths of their conspecifics (a member of the same species) [1]. Astonishingly, in Homo sapiens, the rate is nearly 7 times higher, around 2% (1 in 50)!

More than 1.3 million people worldwide die each year because of violence in all of its forms (self-directed, interpersonal and collective), accounting for 2.5% of global mortality. There are two critical conditions that endorse aggressive behavior: being fiercely territorial and living in social groups.

From the evolutionary perspective, aggression is usually described as adaptive. Struggle for resources like habitat, mates and food have had a key role in forming aggressive behavior in humans. Genetic variants that promote aggression have been more likely to be passed on to the next generation because they have increased the chances of survival. Indeed, among tribes of extremely violent hunter-gatherers, men who committed acts of homicide had more children, as they were more likely to survive and have more offspring [2]. This lethal legacy may be the reason we are here today.

Although there are several biological aspects related to aggression, their predictive value continues to be rather low. It is possible to inherit a predisposition to acting violently, but scientists also emphasize that modeling violence in the home environment is the most certain way of propagating aggressive behavior. Children learn to act violently through the simple observation of aggressive models. The way parents manage the inevitable conflicts that arise between themselves and their children is central to the learning of aggression. When parents are unable to stop the child from escalating the intensity of conflict, and when they at least intermittently reinforce the child’s coercive behavior, the child learns that escalation is a viable method of resolving conflict. When this conflict strategy is applied to interactions with siblings or peers, and if it is also reinforced in these contexts, this conflict escalation is likely to include acts of aggression [3].

In addition to being hereditary and learned through social modeling, there is one other crucial component to aggressive behavior: self-control. In humans, the urge to react aggressively stems from the ancient parts located deep in the brain.

The structure capable of controlling those impulses is evolutionally much newer and located just behind the forehead – the frontal lobes. Unfortunately, this “top-down” conscious control of violent impulses is slower to act in contrast with the circuits of eruptive violence deep in the brain. People convicted of murder had been found to have reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex and increased activity in deeper regions [4]. Although there are plenty of examples of people with prefrontal cortex damage who do not commit violent acts, these findings clearly demonstrate that the damage to the prefrontal cortex impairs decision making and increases impulsive behavior.

Early physical aggression needs to be dealt with care. Long-term studies of physical aggression clearly indicate that most children, adolescents and even adults eventually learn to use alternatives to physical violence [5].

Aggression is part of the normal behavioral repertoire of most, if not all, species; however, when expressed in humans in the wrong context, aggression leads to social maladjustment and crime [6]. By identifying mechanisms that predispose people to the risk of being violent – even if the risk is small – we may eventually be able to tailor prevention programs to those who need them most.

This post is adapted from an earlier blog on MiND the Gap/


[1] Gómez, J. M., Verdú, M., González-Megías, A., Méndez, M. (2016). The phylogenetic roots of human lethal violence. Nature 538(7624), 233–237.

[2] Denson, T. F., Dobson-Stone, C., Ronay, R., von Hippel, W., Schira, M. M. (2014). A functional polymorphism of the MAOA gene is associated with neural responses to induced anger control. J Cogn Neurosci 26(7), 1418–1427.

[3] Hodges, E.V.E., Card, N.A., Isaacs, J. (2003). Learning of Aggression in the Home and the Peer Group. In: Heitmeyer, W., Hagan, J. (eds) International Handbook of Violence Research. Springer, Dordrecht.

[4] Raine, A., Buchsbaum, M., LaCasse, L. (1997). Brain abnormalities in murders indicated by positron emission tomography, Biol Psychiatry 42(6), 495–508.

[5] Lacourse, E., Boivin, M., Brendgen, M., Petitclerc, A., Girard, A., Vitaro, F., Paquin, S., Ouellet-Morin, I., Dionne, G., Tremblay, R. E. (2014). A longitudinal twin study of physical aggression during early childhood: Evidence for a developmentally dynamic genome. Psychol Med 44(12):2617–2627.

6] Asherson, P., Cormand, B. (2016). The genetics of aggression: Where are we now? Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet 171(5), 559–561.

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A hot topic these days, that one can hear more and more information about is the microbiota-gut-brain axis, the bidirectional interaction between the intestinal microbiota and the central nervous system nowadays, this has become a hot topic. We are becoming increasingly aware that gut microbiota play a significant role in modulating brain functions, behavior and brain development. Pre- and probiotics can influence the microbiota composition, so the question arises, can we have an impact on our mental health by controlling nutrition and using probiotics?

Burokas and colleagues aimed to investigate this possibility in their study (2017), where the goal was to test whether chronic prebiotic treatment in mice modifies behavior across domains relevant to anxiety, depression, cognition, stress response, and social behavior.

In the first part of the study, the researchers fed mice with prebiotics for 10 weeks. They were administered the prebiotics fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), a combination of both, or water. FOS and GOS are soluble fibers that are associated with the stimulation of beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacterium and lactobacillus.

Behavioral testing started from the third week including

  • the open field test (anxiety – amount of exploratory behavior in a new place),
  • novel object test (memory and learning – exploration time of a novel object in a familiar context), and
  • forced swimming test (depression-like behavior – amount of activity in the cylinder filled water).

Meanwhile, plasma corticosterone, gut microbiota composition, and cecal short-chain fatty acids were measured. Taken together, the authors found that the prebiotic FOS+GOS treatment exhibited both antidepressant and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects. However, there were no major effects observed on cognition, nociception (response to pain stimulus), and sociability; with the exception of blunted aggressive behavior and more prosocial approaches.

In the second part, FOS+GOS or water-treated mice were exposed to chronic psychosocial stress. Behavior, immune, and microbiota parameters were assessed. Under stress, the microbiota composition of water-treated mice changed (decreased concentration of bifidobacterium and lactobacillus), which effect was reversed by treatment with prebiotics.

Furthermore, it was found that three weeks of chronic social stress significantly reduced social interaction, and increased stress indicators (basal corticosterone levels and stress-induced hyperthermia), whereas prebiotic administration protected from these effects.

After stimulation with a T-cell activator lectin (concanavalin A), the stressed, water-treated mice group presented increased levels of inflammatory cytokines (interleukin 6, tumor necrosis factor alpha), whereas in animals with prebiotics had these at normal levels.

Overall, these results suggest a beneficial role of prebiotic treatment in mice for stress-related behaviors and supporting the theory that modifying the intestinal microbiota via prebiotics represents a promising potential for supplement therapy in psychiatric disorders.

Watch YouTube Video:

Burokas, A., Arboleya, S., Moloney, R. D., Peterson, V. L., Murphy, K., Clarke, G., Stanton, C., Dinan, T. G., & Cryan, J. F. (2017). Targeting the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis: Prebiotics Have Anxiolytic and Antidepressant-like Effects and Reverse the Impact of Chronic Stress in Mice. Biological Psychiatry, 82(7), 472–487. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.12.031

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