Thiamin (vitamin B1) deficiency discovered in diabetics

Most Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics were deficient in vitamin B1 (thiamin), in results from a groundbreaking new study.

Researchers from the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex in Colchester, UK, recruited 26 Type 1 diabetics and 48 Type 2 diabetics—all of whom were controlling blood sugar successfully—and 20 healthy volunteers to compare against (control group), and found that compared to the controls, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics had, respectively, 76% and 75% lower blood-plasma thiamin levels.

The body needs thiamin, a water-soluble vitamin, to convert carbohydrates into glucose, the main source of energy in the body. Traditionally with diabetes, scientists measure thiamin indirectly through a certain thiamin-processing enzyme (transketolase), in red blood cells. If transketolase activity is normal, researchers assume there is enough thiamin.

However, lead researcher P. J. Thornalley noticed new studies finding that high doses of thiamin prevented the small-blood-vessel damage common in diabetes and theorized that diabetics might need more thiamin. In this study, researchers examined how the body processes thiamin and found that compared to the controls, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics excreted thiamin through the urine 24 times faster and 16 times faster, respectively.

Some of the diabetics in each group also had protein in the urine, an early sign of kidney problems common in diabetes. Researchers knew that the body uses special proteins to transport thiamin into red blood cells as part of the transketolase-enzyme process and decided to measure these thiamin-transporting proteins. They found abnormally high transporter-protein levels. Their discovery led researchers to conclude that the thiamin-transporting proteins raised transketolase enzyme activity to normal levels, fooling scientists into believing diabetics had enough thiamin. Thornalley is conducting more studies to determine whether low thiamin levels cause small blood vessel damage, or if damaged blood vessels cause the kidneys to excrete too much thiamin.

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