Many people live with "mild" annoying symptoms every day. They think they're simply a consequence of getting older.
My friend. I'm here to tell you, that is total BS. The whole "getting older" argument is starting to get on my nerves. So let's set some things straight.
Are you going to die someday? Yup. That's a fact. Will there be some changes to adjust to? Certainly.
But did you know there are people who live strong, energetic, focused lives with incredible mental clarity long into their 90's? Check out what 100-year-old Edith Murway-Traina has been up to. Or this slew of impressive old folks.
Why is that possible for some and not others? Do you think it is purely genetic? If you do, you'd be wrong.
There is a difference between dying and living with dis-EASE for a few decades prior to actually breathing your last. One of these may lead to the other prematurely, but they do not have to link arms at all.
There are a few secrets to longevity and living a life of vitality right up until the end. I discuss many of them on my Instagram from time to time, so check that out.
One of those secrets is making sure your body is getting all it needs to operate properly--and that's why we're spending this time learning the details of essential nutrition. It is time well spent--so I applaud you for investing it.
Remember, there are two rules:
1) Don't get overwhelmed. Nutrition isn't complicated until we make it so. Forget counting calories, macros, micrograms, or IU's. If you eat real food complete with quality animal products, you're winning.
2) Open your mind to new concepts and ideas. Be willing to unlearn and relearn some things. Per usual.
We started this series discovering the different types of Vitamin A and why it's so important for all your biological systems to function properly. Today, we're going to begin sorting out the B vitamins and how their deficiencies can throw your body into a frenzy of chaotic and unexpected symptoms that often go unexplained by most medical doctors. (Not to worry, they have a pill for that.)
There are a total of eight different B vitamins that we'll cover over the next few posts.
As we delve in, you'll notice a common theme in the causes of ALL B vitamin deficiencies... and that is too much carbohydrate consumption. Note that this isn't the only cause, as we'll find out. But if you learn nothing else, know that a diet high in improperly prepared grains and low in quality, nutrient-dense animal foods will lead to Vitamin B deficiencies faster than a stack of rice cakes disappear at a Vegan convention.
Before we get into the weeds, let me introduce you to Linda.
I. Meet Linda
Linda grew up eating lots of macaroni & cheese and goldfish. These foods were her most favorite and her parents wanted her to be happy. As a teenager, she would spend her lunch breaks drinking Dr. Pepper and eating french fries with her friends--but she didn't go overboard. She played Varsity volleyball, after all, and made sure to watch her calories. As she got older and began putting on a bit of weight, she decided to make "healthier" choices with diet Dr. Pepper, lots of salad, and granola bars instead. Now she opts for skinny white mochas in the morning (and sometimes afternoon) with her fat-free bran muffins, and still enjoys a couple of glasses of red wine every night because she heard it was good for her.
But recently, Linda has started feeling "off." She's tired almost all the time. She isn't sleeping very good anymore and seems to have anxiety more than she used to. She feels guilty because she snaps at her kids and her husband at least a couple times a week. She's having to keep TUMS in her purse regularly now because her heartburn is pretty persistent no matter what she eats, and she has started feeling this weird, and sometimes painful, tingling/numbing sensation in her feet and her fingers. She knows she should exercise more, but she just feels so tired, her muscles ache when she gets off work, and her heart is already racing most of the time anyway.
The doctors can't quite figure out why her energy has tanked so much, but they ran some tests and have labeled her as pre-diabetic. They attribute Linda's sleeping issues and tingling to her age and prescribe her some medicine to relieve the symptoms of both. She promises that she'll try to "eat better" from now on.
Poor Linda. Good thing that's not you, right?
So what does this story have to do with Vitamin B1? Glad you asked.
II. Top Essential Benefits
Vitamin B1, also called thiamine, is primarily responsible for two things: protecting the overall cell function of your nerves, heart & muscles; and helping metabolize energy.
You'll find that all of the following benefits stem from those areas.
Promotes a healthy metabolism
Provides optimal brain power
Strengthens the immune system
Ensures proper cardiac function
Supports optimal digestion
Relieves stress and calms the nervous system
III. Signs of Deficiency
Because thiamine is a main player in your metabolic function, one of the very first signs of thiamine deficiency is fatigue. It's certainly the most common and most ignored, because let's face it--there are a lot of things that make us tired, right? So let's go down the list of other symptoms together... Have you attributed any of these to aging?
- brain fog
- memory loss or confusion
- low-tolerance to stress - exercise intolerance - panic attacks/anxiety - lack of tears - increased pulse rate - enlarged heart - difficulty breathing - edema
- sleep apnea or insomnia - muscle sensitivity
- muscle pain
- muscle weakness - nerve sensitivity
- numbing extremities - vertigo or balance issues
- loss of appetite - Gerd - low stomach acid (chronic heartburn) - constipation or sluggish digestion - a chronic feeling of fullness or abdominal discomfort
All these symptoms can be traced back to the function of your heart cells, muscles cells, nerve cells or mitochondrial health (energy production). And when it get's really bad, you get Beriberi--a degenerative impairment of your nerve and heart function.
IV. Causes of Deficiency
So what makes one deficient in thiamine? Here are the top four factors:
1. Refined sugars and improperly-prepared carbohydrates. This is often your typical Standard American Diet (SAD), but it can also easily be a vegan diet. If your daily food staples include multiple servings of cereal, oatmeal, bagels, baked goods, chips, rice, and bread--you might be in trouble. Especially if you don't get enough quality animal foods.
2. Alcohol. Overconsumption of alcohol becomes a major player in thiamine deficiency because it causes inflammation and erosion of the stomach lining and digestive tract. When the body sustains chronic injury like this, it can no longer absorb essential nutrients. In fact, one of the first treatments in a person hospitalized with an alcoholism disorder is intravenous thiamine. May it never get to that point for you.
3. Overconsumption of polyphenols. These little buggers have a dark side that nobody wants to talk about. Polyphenols are often touted to "fight disease" and be good for "heart health." But they are also full of tannins and catechins (anti-nutrients) that can prohibit the absorption of essential molecules like thiamine, and interfere with important digestive enzyme activity. Polyphenols are found in high-concentrations in coffee, tea, chocolate, beans and red wine. Pay attention to how much space these foods/drinks take up in your diet, and how they make you feel. Know yourself.
4. Antacids. Popping TUMS or taking prescriptive antacid medication is a recipe for disaster on so many levels. Contrary to popular belief, heartburn is actually a symptom of stomach acid levels that are too low. Proper amounts of stomach acid (and it should be nice and high) actually signals your esophageal sphincter (the valve at the end of your esophagus) to close at the right time. When your stomach acid is too low, this valve relaxes and allows stomach acid to leak out, causing heartburn. The answer is NEVER to take drugs to further decrease your acid levels--but rather support the body's natural stomach-acid response by consistently eating the right foods. When stomach acid remains too low, your body cannot properly digest and absorb the nutrition it needs from your food.
5. Antibiotics. There is certainly a time and a place for antibiotics, but it is rare. Unfortunately, we pop them like candy over here in the West, and this can lead to all kinds of disruptions within our bodies as we're made up of many microbes that have a lot of roles to play. The rapid depletion of Vitamin B1 as a result of antibiotic use can cause serious injury to muscles and other tissues of the body. if you must take antibiotics, make sure you compensate for thiamine loss and malabsorption by taking a methylated, bioactive B complex supplement such as this one.
Now remember Linda?
Linda is worried about her condition as it gets worse and new symptoms keep showing up... and her doctors aren't sure what's causing it all. The reality is that LInda is suffering from a simple Thiamine deficiency.
She nailed 9 of the symptoms listed above and her dietary lifestyle is on point for missing the vitamin B1 train on a regular basis. A lifetime of refined grains, low-fat muffins, granola bars (Hmmm, that sounds like the bottom tier of the USDA's food pyramid... .odd), fat-free dairy coupled with refined sugar ("skinny" mochas), nightly alcohol consumption and a focus on salad isn't doing her any favors.
Not only is her diet low in B1 sources, the foods she's consuming are depleting any thiamine that is available. What's worse, she's feeding her low stomach-acid dysfunction with medications and inadequate amounts of quality protein which leads to cyclical malabsorption of this vital nutrient.
V. Top Real Food Sources
Listen Linda. Here is what you should be eating instead:
The top real food sources for Vitamin B1 (thiamine) are:
- Beef/Chicken liver
- Fish Roe
- Nutritional Yeast
- Flax Seeds
- Sunflower seeds
It's actually pretty difficult to become deficient in Vitamin B1 as our bodies only need trace amounts to get the job done. This is part of why these symptoms aren't often attributed to thiamine deficiency. But as you can see, when multiple missteps come into play (such as a diet low in nutrient-density and high in sugar/anti-nutrients) there can be some serious harmful impacts.
The most important thing is to simply understand these details so that you can pay attention and make decisions that meet your body's basic needs.
So what about you? Are you "getting older"? Or is your body simply asking you for some foundational building blocks (like thiamine) to run properly?
Stay tuned! There is more to come!