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Beriberi, sound yummy right? Not so much!

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

ID 143039191 © Clearvista |

Beriberi is a disease caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency, otherwise known as thiamine deficiency. This illness can be categorized into two different strains: wet and dry beriberi.

  1. Wet beriberi affects the circulatory system and, in extreme cases, could even cause heart failure.

  2. Dry beriberi damages the nerves and can lead to decreased muscle strength and eventually, muscle paralysis.

Beriberi can be life-threatening if it isn’t treated!

Today, in developed countries at least, beriberi mostly occurs in people with an alcohol use disorder. The disease can also be seen in women who have extreme nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, in people with AIDS, or after gastric bypass surgery.

Vitamin B1 (thiamin, or thiamine) plays a crucial role in nerve, muscle, and heart function, is essential for glucose metabolism, and it allows the body to use carbohydrates for energy.

Who is most at risk of developing a B1 deficiency?

Beriberi (thiamin deficiency) is more commonly found among,

  • people in developing countries who subsist on white rice or other highly refined carbohydrates,

  • alcoholics,

  • cancer patients,

  • pregnant women with morning sickness,

  • gastric bypass surgery patients, or

  • dialysis patients.

Sign and symptoms of vitamin B1 deficiency.

  1. Wet beriberi - Shortness of breath - Change in heart rate - Swollen lower legs-

  2. Dry beriberi - Reduced reflexes - Tingling sensation in the arms and legs - Nausea/vomiting - Muscle weakness - Blurry vision - Fatigue - Irritability

In extreme cases, beriberi has been linked to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

  • Wernicke encephalopathy causes damage in the regions of the brain known as the thalamus and hypothalamus. This can lead to: - memory loss - confusion - visual problems like rapid eye movement (fluttering) and double vision - loss of muscle coordination

  • Korsakoff syndrome is caused by permanent damage to the region of the brain where memories form. It can cause: - loss of memory - inability to create new memories - hallucinations

How to avoid Thiamin deficiency

Prevent beriberi and other disorders caused by thiamine deficiency is quite simple.

Eat a well balanced, healthy diet that contains foods rich in essential nutrients!

Good sources of thiamine are

  • Beef liver

  • Black beans cooked

  • Lentils cooked

  • Macadamia nuts, raw

  • Pork loin, cooked

  • Asparagus

  • Fortified breakfast cereal

Keep in mind the thiamine content of the foods listed above decreases after cooking or processing.

Anyone who consumes substantial amounts of alcohol regularly should be checked routinely for

B1 vitamin deficiency.

What is the long-term prognosis for beriberi sufferers?

If beriberi is detected and treated early, there is a good chance of full recovery. Nerve and heart damage is usually reversible, and recovery should be quick once treatment is begun.

If the deficiency is allowed to progress to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, the outlook is less hopeful. While treatment can reduce the symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy, brain damage from Korsakoff syndrome is generally permanent.

Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is vital for your health. That being said, if, like the rest of us, your hectic busy lifestyle often means you skip meals, don’t eat as well as you should, or drink a little more than you should, a viable alternative is IV drip therapy.

Dr. Linday Slowiczek from Creighton University says,

“When a person receives an IV vitamin treatment, they’re receiving a liquid mixture of vitamins and minerals through a small tube inserted into a vein.

This allows the nutrients to be absorbed quickly and directly into the bloodstream, a method that produces higher levels of the vitamins and minerals in your body than if you got them from food or supplements. This is because several factors affect our body’s ability to absorb nutrients in the stomach. Factors include age, metabolism, health status, genetics, interactions with other products we consume, and the physical and chemical makeup of the nutritional supplement or food. Higher levels of the vitamins and minerals in your bloodstream leading to greater uptake into cells, which theoretically will use the nutrients to maintain health and fight illness.”

Thiamine IV therapy

A long-standing treatment (the banana bag) is used for vitamin and electrolyte deficiencies and has proven especially useful in treating people with chronic thiamine deficiency. It contains a combination of thiamine, magnesium, folic acid, and a multivitamin formulation in either normal saline or dextrose in water solution.

by Dr. Chontirot Srikasedsarakul

Dr. Chontirot Srikasedsarakul is a specialist in Genomics, Dermatology and Aesthetics.  She has received qualifications from numerous educational institutions like Stanford University, U.S.A.; the University of Queensland, Australia; Chulalongkorn University, Thailand and the American Board of Anti-Aging Medicine.

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