Leave it to our favorite deep-dive investigative journalist and truth seeker, Bill Sardi, to notice that a whole bunch of common health complaints, (including many that are associated with covid-19) are also known signs of beriberi. Beriberi is a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin B1 (a.k.a. thiamine). It has been off the radar in modern times because it has commonly (but incorrectly) been thought to only affect alcoholics and the malnourished poor folks in 3rd world countries. Because the practice of medicine is so compartmentalized into specialties, no one doctor may even see the pattern of problems that would suggest beriberi. Mr. Sardi wrote this recent article about how the deficiency of vitamin B1 was even once mistaken for a viral epidemic.

After reviewing the chart below that Mr. Sardi prepared, I think most readers will want to know more about how we get vitamin B1 and why we might not have enough. No one person would have all of these symptoms, but if you have ANY of them, it would be smart to think about B1.


How does B1 work? You can add morning sickness in pregnancy and probably many more items to that already impressive list. To better understand how powerful B1 is, it may help to remember that we have 2 nervous systems. One is our consciously-controlled nervous system (the sympathetic system). It is the one you use to tell your legs to walk or your arms to swing a golf club. The other one works in the background automatically (the autonomic system), for example to tell your heart to beat in rhythm, your lungs to breathe regularly and your intestines to move food along. B1 controls that autonomic nervous system and it helps the mitochondria in our cells convert food into energy. Its effects are understandably widespread in the body and so are the symptoms of its deficiency.

Where do we get B1? Medscape lists these dietary sources: whole-grain foods, meat [especially pork], fish/poultry/eggs, milk and milk products, vegetables (ie, green, leafy vegetables; beets; potatoes), legumes (ie, lentils, soybeans, nuts, seeds), orange and tomato juices. You will note that the list does not include Doritos, gummy bears, bagels, donuts, Rice Krispies, or a whole host of other things that Americans eat. Also, the more a food such as a vegetable is cooked, the more the B1 content is degraded. E.g. a potato may contain some B1, but not by the time it becomes a Pringles chip. The bacteria in our intestinal tracts make some B1 and so that is another reason we need to keep them in good shape. (They love fibers from vegetables.)

Why might we be low in B1? The Standard American Diet (SAD) is not high in B1 rich foods. Even under ideal circumstances, we can absorb only a small amount each day, e.g. 5 mg. Worse yet, most of us reduce our levels because alcohol, coffee, and sugar all particularly interfere with B1 uptake. That is why doctors monitor alcoholics for beriberi symptoms. If emotional stress does not deplete vitamin B1 directly (and it very well may do that), stress can drive us to eat sugary comfort foods and drink alcohol—both of which deplete thiamine. Many medications deplete B1 including those used for to treat blood pressure, diabetes, mental depression, infection, irregular heart rhythm. The diabetes drug, metformin, depletes B1 and vitamin B12, which is another important nerve protector. (That makes me wonder if the drug is contributing to the peripheral neuropathy experienced by too many diabetics.) One reason that minorities have more health worries is in part due to living in neighborhoods where there is a lack of fresh wholesome foods. They are also more likely to block B1 with the sugar in processed foods and by drinking alcohol. The elderly in long term care facilities are more frequently deficient in thiamine…presumably because of the diet. Another antagonist of B1 is the metal toxin, lead, e.g. from lead plumbing.

What about supplements? Most people probably take a multivitamin that contains at least some B1. For example, Centrum Silver (which for many reasons I do NOT recommend) contains 1.1 mg. but in a form that is not especially easy to absorb. What is more, if you take that pill along with a typical IHop breakfast of pancakes with syrup and coffee, you might not absorb much if any. In contrast, Molecular Multi contains 20 mg of B1. B vitamins are typically water-soluble, but there is a fat-soluble variety of B1, benfotiamine, that seems to be better absorbed and utilized. It has been found useful for diabetic vascular problems and is being researched for helping with diabetic nerve damage, Alzheimer’s and arthritis. Bill Sardi was so motivated by the obvious need, that he recently formulated Nerve Guardian including 10 mg. of benfotiamine  and 5 more nutrients to help the nervous system. I am impressed with the product and that he made it so affordable. With his “Buy one/get one free” offer, the price works out to just $3.12 a month or less than a cup of gourmet coffee!!! Available from Lifespan Nutrition at 800-247-5731.

Testing / Safety? As is the case with most nutrients, normal doctor’s office blood testing is relatively useless. The more accurate special tests are expensive and unnecessary. It is better to just try supplementing B1 and see if it helps. (That is called a “therapeutic trial”.) According to Harvard, there has never been a toxic level of thiamine (B1) discovered. That is because the body stops absorbing B1 when it has enough and flushes out the excess.

Back to covid-19. Whatever you believe about the source and nature of the pandemic, it stands to reason that a great many people are suffering symptoms related to insufficient B1 with or without a virus. Just as is the case with vitamin D and zinc, it can only help everyone to be well nourished.

This links to the government’s professional information sheet on thiamin. Just remember that when the feds set nutrient intake levels, since they have a drug mindset, they do not allow for a person’s biochemical uniqueness or for the fact that we might do something to interfere with absorption…let alone aim for optimum function rather than the minimum. Here is a recent authoritative article from a medical journal explaining the importance of and current problems due to vitamin B1 shortage.