Thiamin (Vitamin B1) and thiamin-using enzymes are present in all cells of the body, thus, a thiamin deficiency would seem to adversely affect all of the organ systems.
However, the nervous system (and heart) shows particular sensitivity to the effects of a thiamin deficiency at the cellular level.
B1 deficiency usually occurs in countries where white rice is the dietary staple. As white rice is highly processed, it contains an insufficient amount of Vitamin B1. Beriberi is a disease caused due to this. Beriberi is marked by muscle pain, especially in the calves, nerve degeneration, tingling throughout the body, and poor coordination in the arms and legs. Other types of Beriberi may include heart failure, an enlarged heart and edema, swelling of the heart.
In the Western world, B1 deficiency is usually caused by excessive alcohol consumption, as alcohol effectively destroys B-vitamins. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a rare disease which usually occurs in alcoholics and those with a vitamin-deficient diet. Because alcohol prevents the absorption of vitamin B1 and increases the vitamin's excretion from the kidneys, vitamin deficiency is common in alcoholics. The symptoms of vitamin B1 deficiency include lethargy, fatigue, a general weakness, headache, irritability, paralysis of eye muscles, involuntary eye movement, staggering and confusion.
Other symptoms of deficiency include Fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, gastrointestinal upsets, nausea and weakness. Signs of a severe deficiency include mental confusion, muscular weakness, paralysis of the extremities, heart problems and loss of reflexes.
Poultry too exhibit symptoms of Thiamin deficiency. Onset is sudden in young chicks. There is loss of appetite and an unsteady gait. Later on, there are locomotor signs, beginning with an apparent paralysis of the flexor of the toes.
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