In her weekly column, orthomolecular nutritionist Nonie De Long does a deep dive into an essential vitamin often deficient in carb addiction.

Dear Readers,

This week’s question comes from Max who asks if there are essential vitamins for overcoming carb addiction and insulin resistance. The answer is yes, there are – and at the top of that list is this one many have never heard about. So let’s take a quiz and see if you can guess it.

Vitamin Quiz

Which vitamin requires the enzyme transketolase to work?

  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B12

Which vitamin deficiency causes beriberi?

  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B12

Which vitamin acts as a cofactor for 5 different enzymes in the body?

  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B12

Which vitamin deficiencies cause fatigue?

  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B12

Which vitamin is deficient with the regular consumption of alcohol?

  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B12

Which vitamin is deficient in T2 diabetes and insulin resistance?

  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B12

Which vitamin is deficient in those with a high carbohydrate diet?

  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B12

Which vitamin protects the cell and mitochondria against glycation and free radicals, and protects the body from deposits of amyloid plaque in the brain?

  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B12

Which vitamin deficiency can cause constipation, GERD, slow digestion, and low stomach acid?

  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B12

Which vitamin deficiency can cause an enlarged heart, an increased heart rate, and nerve problems like peripheral neuropathy and damage to the myelin sheath?

  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B12

Which vitamin deficiency can cause nervous tension and exercise intolerance?

  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B12

Which vitamin deficiency can cause insomnia and sleep apnea?

  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B12

Did you guess B1? Both B1 and B12 are indicated in fatigue, but the rest of the questions apply to B1, otherwise known as Thiamine. It’s been called the great imitator of other illnesses, and you can see from the symptom list it’s true.

Other symptoms a B1 deficiency can provoke include heart palpitations, dizziness when standing from sitting, vertigo, tremors, an inability to make tears, double vision, difficulty swallowing, impaired taste, lack of appetite, autoimmune disorder fatigue, hiccups, recurrent ear infections, prolonged stress, aversion to caffeine, panic attacks and nightmares.

The Secret Vitamin in Addictions

I first became aware of this vitamin deficiency when working in an addiction facility. I was charged with establishing the dietary and clinical protocol for Canada’s first holistic, in-patient addiction treatment facility. Part of the work was looking at symptoms and how they responded to the treatment. I noticed some common themes in clients: insomnia, restless anxiety, restless legs, tingling in peripheral limbs, inability to relax, fatigue, tremors, nerve problems, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), constipation and all manner of digestive issues – usually linked to low stomach acid.

After a lot of research I discovered a link between all these symptoms: a B1 deficiency. I did not need to add B1 to the protocol because I also observed an amelioration of these symptoms over time with an omnivore Paleo diet coupled with intensive vitamin therapy – including B vitamins. The vitamins in the meat and vitamin charged smoothie were enough to correct the deficiency in most clients. The only ones who didn’t respond as well were those who refused to eat meat. In these clients the normal supplements were not sufficient to reverse the symptoms they had developed. Their diets did not include lentils or grains so I can’t discern if they would have corrected for the symptoms. Clinicians with experience in this matter are welcome to reach out to me.

However, my findings mirror my work with teens and young adults who suffer anxiety, mood swings, and depression. I’ve observed that consuming red meat at least 2-3x a week is essential for amelioration of the symptoms, in addition to supplementation. For those who take issue with this, let me share that I started my nutrition journey as a raw food vegan. I innately prefer plant food to animal food. I did not come to this conclusion out of personal preference or bias. I came to it out of clinical observation and experience.

I unfortunately have not gotten the same reversal of symptoms in those who can’t eat red meat or take animal based supplements. It could be that spiking insulin (even whole grains do this) can be provoking B1 depletion which makes it hard to get enough. I believe extra supplementation and reduced carbohydrate consumption is needed to raise B1 levels sufficiently to address symptoms in this population and again, welcome clinician input.

The History of B1

You may have heard of beriberi. It’s a serious deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamin), and to this day it’s common in developing countries. We often see it here in the West in those with alcohol addiction. It was discovered in 1897 by Christiaan Eijkman, a Dutch physician and pathologist. He found that the disease symptoms could be provoked by feeding polished rice to chickens and reversed by feeding them unpolished rice.

The disease can be further broken into wet beriberi, which affects the cardiovascular system and requires emergency care, and dry beriberi, which causes damage to the central nervous.

system. There is a loss of motor function, impaired walking, weakness and muscle loss, mental confusion, impaired reflexes, numbness or tingling in the extremities, fatigue, and rapid heart beat (even without exercise). Sometimes there is blurry vision, loss of appetite, irritability, and dementia like symptoms. Remember from last week, dementia has been called type 3 diabetes. There’s no doubt this powerful nutrient plays a protective role in the pathology of the patient with dementia.

Often Missed

While full blown beriberi is not very common in the West, subclinical or low grade beriberi is. Unfortunately, it’s often accepted as part of the progression of T2 diabetes, which also damages the peripheral nerves and causes similar symptoms like vision loss, muscular problems, and balance issues. It’s difficult to pull the two apart.

Additionally, B1 levels are not regularly tested by physicians and standard blood tests do not accurately show the deficiency. The best way to know if there’s a deficiency is good old symptomatology and supplementing to see if the symptoms improve. But it’s a safe bet that if you have any type of diabetes and / or are a regular drinker or a carb addict, it’s essential to be supplementing with this vitamin!

Which foods are high in B1?

There are many foods that contain B1. Liver, beef, pork, salmon, trout, tuna, mussels, flax seeds, legumes, beans, sunflower seeds, and whole grains have a good amount of thiamin in them.

What Depletes B1?

All refined carbs and sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup found in sodas, deplete B1. Additionally, white rice, white flour, excess carbs, coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol, diabetes, heavy metal toxicity, and medications like diuretics and metformin all deplete vitamin B1. Additionally if you have an eating disorder or have had a gastric bypass it’s common to be deficient in vitamin B1.

How to Supplement

B1 is only one of many B vitamins that are essential for good health. They work synergistically, so the best way to supplement with B1 is to consume it in a supplement that contains these cofactors. A good quality B complex is essential for anyone with nervous system disorders, addictions, autoimmune disorders, fatigue, dementia, and diabetes. Which one is best for you depends on certain genes and can be determined with the help of a professional, but you can always try a professional quality B complex with the methylated form of folate and B12 to see if

you feel better. Additionally, nutritional yeast and desiccated liver contain all the B vitamins in balance and are great supplements for boosting B levels. If you need to find a good B vitamin you can reach out and I will send you a link to a few of my favorite products.

Thank you for the great question, Max! As always, if readers have a health or nutrition related question for the column, I welcome you to write to me at nonienutritionista@gmail.com. And if you’re looking for more specific health information, check out my website and blog at hopenotdope.ca.

Namaste!

Nonie Nutritionista

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