Vitamin deficiency implicated in the complications of diabetes

Diabetes is a condition characterised by generally raised levels of sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream. One of the problems here is that glucose can react (through a biochemical process known as ‘glycation’) to tissues in the body, which can damage those tissues and lead to complications in the long term. Not surprisingly, glycation has been implicated as a key underlying process in the long term problems associated with diabetes, including nerve damage, visual loss and heart disease.

However, a study just published in the journal Diabetologia has revealed something that provides another potential mechanism by which the complications of diabetes come about. Researchers from the Univesity of Essex in Colchester, UK, have discovered that diabetes sufferers are generally deficient in the nutrient vitamin B1 (thiamine). Levels of B1 in the bloodstream were found to be down by three-quarters in individuals with both type 1 and type 2 diabtetes.

The explanation for low B1 levels appears to be increased loss of B1 through the kidneys. ‘Renal clearance’ of B1 was 24 times higher than normal in type 1 diabetics and 16 times higher than normal in type 2 diabetics.

This study is important because vitamin B1 deficiency can cause a range of symptoms and complications that include:

Poor appetite
Muscle aches
Paralysis in the hands and/or feet
Difficulty walking
Heart failure

Many of these issues are well-known complications of diabetes.

What we don’t have, as far as I can see, are studies in which vitamin B1 has been tested in diabetics to see if it improves outcome. However, that would not stop me suggesting that diabetics consider supplementing with this nutrient.

One approach here might be to take a B-complex supplement which contains, say, 20-25 mg of vitamin B1. Such as supplement is likely to contain vitamin B6 too, which has the capacity to suppress glycaton. Interestingly, it is believed that vitamin B1 has the capacity to inhibit glycation too. A B-complex supplements is also likely to contain nutrients such as B3 and biotin that have roles to play in blood sugar control.

Of course, anyone wanting to get control on their diabetes and reduce their risk of complications would be well advised to get their diet right. What this basically means is a low glycaemic index/load diet. And activity, both aerobic and resistance types, are advised here too.


1. Thornalley PJ, et al. High prevalence of low plasma thiamine concentration in diabetes linked to a marker of vascular disease. Diabetologia. August 4th 2007 [Epub ahead of print]

2 Responses to Vitamin deficiency implicated in the complications of diabetes

  1. helen 13 August 2007 at 10:40 pm #

    I tend to think that most disease is caused by a lack of one nutrient or another & when the modern diet is sadly lacking in nutrients & people are being discouraged from eating red meat which is one of the most nutrient dense dietry sources known it doesn’t take a genious to connect the dots. vitamin & mineral defiencies abound in modern society, codex will ensure that they continue to do so. why take a drug when dietry modification & vitamin / mineral supplementation will 9 times out of 10 do the trick.

  2. chris 14 August 2007 at 7:07 am #

    helen people are not being discouraged from eating red meat – altho the major culprits for telling patients this are actually the doctors – they have such a poor knowledge of nutrition . I think they get a couple of hours in their training ! Look at the ION website – their food pyramid seems to discourage its use! The FSA balance of health suggests 2-3 protein helpings a day – encouraging a range between the protein foods. If you think of it in practical terms that is 14 meals of meat or fish or egg or cheese or a veggie alt.

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