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What is Thiamine Pyrophosphate?

By Donn Saylor
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Thiamine pyrophosphate is a vitamin B1 derivative that operates as the active form of the nutrient thiamine. It works as a coenzyme in the proper respiration of tissues, cell metabolism, and glucose oxidation. Coenzymes, sometimes called cofactors, are chemical composites from non-protein sources that are bound to a protein for the healthy operation of that protein's biological actions. Also known by the name of thiamine diphosphate (ThDP), thiamine pyrophosphate is often prescribed for the treatment of thiamine deficiency.

Beriberi, a disease of the peripheral nervous system, was the catalyst through which scientists discovered the role and importance of thiamine pyrophosphate in the human body. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, beriberi was a common ailment in many southeast Asian countries. As science advanced, researchers were able to identify a severe lack of thiamine in the diets of the afflicted. Through these findings, it was established that thiamine pyrophosphate was an essential nutrient universal in all living organisms.

Thiamine pyrophosphate works by breaking down amino acids and sugars and producing energy for the body. As B vitamins, thiamine pyrophosphate, or TPP, plays a vital role in healthy tissue respiration, the appropriate metabolism of cells, and the efficient oxidation of glucose. It is also crucial to the proper metabolism of carbohydrates.

TPP is one of several naturally occurring derivatives of thiamine. The others are thiamine monophosphate (ThMP), thiamine triphosphate (ThTP), thiamine triphosphate (AThTP), and adenosine thiamine diphosphate (AThDP). All four derivatives operate as the active form of thiamine, which means they actually do the physical work required of the nutrient. Thiamine itself simply functions as a transport structure for the vitamin. Researchers have been aware of TPP, ThMP, and ThTP for some time, but the identification of AThTP and AThDP were discovered in the late 20th century.

Humans and animals obtain TPP primarily through diet. Many foods contain some form of thiamine, typically in small amounts. The highest concentrations of thiamine and TPP can be obtained from pork or yeast sources. Grains are also an excellent source of TPP. As a general rule, unprocessed, unrefined grains will have higher levels of thiamine and TPP. Other sources of this important nutrient include asparagus, cauliflower, eggs, kale, legumes, nuts, oranges, and potatoes.

Since TPP works in direct support of healthy cell function, a deficiency of the nutrient can have damaging effects on the entire body. It can cause serious eye fatigue and major neurological problems. In severe cases, a lack of TPP can lead to death. In addition to poor diet, a TPP deficiency can be caused by persistent vomiting, HIV/AIDS, gastrointestinal disorders, and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. It can also be a direct result of chronic alcoholism.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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