Thiamin deficiency in low- and middle-income countries: Disorders, prevalences, previous interventions and current recommendations

Casey R. Johnson, Philip R. Fischer, Thomas D. Thacher, Mark D. Topazian, Megan W. Bourassa, Gerald F. Combs

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Thiamin deficiency is a major public health concern in several low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)—current attention to the problem is lacking. Aim: This review discusses prevalence of thiamin insufficiency and thiamin-deficiency disorders (TDDs) in LMICs, outlines programmatic experience with thiamin interventions, and offers recommendations to improve public-health and research attention to thiamin in LMICs. Discussion: Thiamin insufficiency, i.e. low-blood-thiamin status, is endemic among several Southeast Asian countries: Cambodia (70–100% of infants and 27–100% of reproductive-age women); Laos (13% of hospitalized infants); Thailand (16–25% of children and 30% of elderly adults). Thiamin deficiency accounts for up to 45% of under-5 deaths in Cambodia, 34% of infant deaths in Laos, and 17% of infant deaths in Myanmar. Deficiency also exists in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, but these instances have typically been isolated. Exclusively breastfed infants of thiamin-deficient mothers are at highest risk for TDD and related death. Intervention strategies that have been employed to combat thiamin deficiency include food processing, fortification, supplementation, dietary diversification, and dietary behaviors, all of which have shown varying levels of effectiveness. Conclusions: We recommend universal thiamin-fortification of context-specific staple-foods in LMICs as a promising solution, as well as thiamin supplementation, particularly for pregnant and lactating women. Food processing regulations, dietary diversification, and modification of dietary behaviors to increase consumption of thiamin-rich foods may provide benefits in some circumstances, especially in countries without universal fortification programs or in populations dependent on food aid.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-151
Number of pages25
JournalNutrition and Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019


  • Thiamin
  • beriberi
  • fortification
  • low- and middle-income countries
  • micronutrient malnutrition
  • public health
  • supplementation
  • thiamin deficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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