Almost 30 million people in the United States suffer from diabetes, a chronic condition that affects the entire body and can lead to heart and nerve damage (neuropathy).

One of the best ways to manage diabetes and prevent complications is to keep your blood sugar within a healthy range and eat a balanced diet full of vitamins and minerals. And research shows that getting enough of one vitamin in particular, B1, or thiamine, may help prevent diabetic neuropathy.

What is thiamine?

The body uses thiamine to break down sugars that you consume, turn carbohydrates into energy, and aid in nervous system functions. In many populations, malnutrition is a primary reason for severe thiamine deficiency, which may cause serious neurological and muscular problems.

For people with diabetes, the risk of thiamine deficiency increases because your body does not always absorb this vitamin properly, and it may be excreted in your urine.

Thiamine and neuropathy

Without enough thiamine, you can experience pain, prickly sensations, nerve deadening, and other symptoms related to nerve damage.

Studies have shown that thiamine, consumed through the diet or in supplement form, plays a role in vascular (relating to the nerves in your arms and legs) health, eye health, and kidney health. And some of the latest research has focused on using thiamine therapy as a means of preventing and treating early-stage diabetic neuropathy.

In recent clinical trials, experts have found that thiamine supplements can prevent the development of early-stage nephropathy (kidney disease) in people with type 2 diabetes. As a treatment for general peripheral neuropathy, thiamine therapy helped reverse diuresis (increased urine flow) and glucosuria (excretion of glucose into the urine), and it also helped normalize cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

How much thiamine do I need?

Experts recommend 1 mg of thiamine a day for men and 0.8 mg a day for women. Pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding need 1.8 mg per day. Generally, the body absorbs thiamine consumed through food more efficiently than it does supplemental thiamine.

Which foods are high in thiamine?

Many foods are excellent sources of thiamine. These include:

  • Asparagus
  • Tuna
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Beans
  • Spinach
  • Flax seeds
  • Crimini mushrooms
  • Green peas

If you are concerned about diabetic neuropathy and your thiamine levels, talk with your doctor about the best remedies for you.