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 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 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, 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 keep your heart beating in rhythm, your lungs breathing regularly and your intestines moving 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. Note that the list does not include Doritos, gummy bears, bagels, donuts, Rice Krispies, or a whole host of other things that Americans eat. The more a food like a vegetable is cooked, the more the B1 is degraded. E.g. a potato may have some B1, but not by the time it becomes a Pringles chip. The bacteria in our intestinal tracts make some B1 and so we need to keep them in good shape. (They love fibers from vegetables.)
Why could 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 are not in the ideal circumstances for absorption because alcohol, coffee, and sugar all particularly interfere with B1 uptake. That is why doctors watch 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. Then there are many medications that deplete B1. Diuretics are suspect. The diabetes drug, metformin, depletes B1 as well as vitamin B12, which is another important nerve protector. (That makes me wonder if the drug is contributing to the peripheral neuropathy experienced by 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 and they are 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.
What about supplements? Most people probably take a multivitamin that contains some B1. For example, Centrum Silver (which 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 with a typical IHop breakfast of pancakes with syrup and coffee, you might not absorb much if any. For comparison, Molecular Multi contains 20 mg. I don’t recommend taking it with a bad breakfast, but at least it contains enough to allow for some absorption interference. 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 apparent need, that he recently formulated Nerve Guardian which contains 10 mg. of benfotiamine and 5 more nutrients to help the nervous system. I am impressed with the product and that he made it affordable. With his “Buy one/get one free” offer, the price works out to just $3.12 a month!!! Available from Lifespan Nutrition at 800-247-5731.
Testing / Safety? As is the case with most nutrients, normal blood testing is relatively useless. The more accurate 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. The body stops absorbing it 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. 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, they are of a drug mindset and are not thinking about optimum function or allowing for the fact that we might do something to interfere with absorption.)