The findings, based on a rat model of diabetes, may be important in the face of rising incidence of diabetes around the globe.
Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease two to three fold in men and three to five fold in women. The increased risk is linked to high levels of cholesterol and lipids in the blood. Previous studies have shown that the use of drugs, such as statins, can lower the risk of heart disease in diabetics by between 20 and 40 per cent.
However researchers at the University of Essex are confident that high doses of thiamine could also help to reverse the increases in blood cholesterol and lipid levels.
They studied control and diabetic rats for 24 weeks with and without oral high-dose therapy with thiamine.
"We found that thiamine therapy (70 mg/kg) prevented diabetes-induced increases in plasma cholesterol and triglycerides in diabetic rats but did not reverse the diabetes-induced decrease of HDL," they report in Diabetologia (DOI: 10.1007/s00125-004-1582-5). Thiamine also normalised food intake of diabetic rats.
Lead researcher Professor Paul Thornalley commented:"There will of course be clinical trials to investigate further the findings we have made using an experimental model of diabetes."
"However, given the continuing toll of heart disease in diabetic patients, and the emerging benefits of thiamine therapy for diabetics suffering from kidney disease - as reported by our research group last year - I would strongly suggest that those with diabetes are given thiamine supplements."