The Health Benefits of Benfotiamine

This thiamine derivative may help diabetic neuropathy and Alzheimer's

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Benfotiamine is a dietary supplement that is a derivative of thiamine (also known as vitamin B1), a B vitamin found in a variety of foods including legumes, nuts, seeds, wheat germ, fortified grain products such as bread, cereal, pasta, rice, and flour, and some meat and fish. Since benfotiamine is fat-soluble and appears to have higher bioavailability and better absorption by the body than thiamine, some people use it to raise their thiamine levels and manage certain health conditions.

Health Benefits

Thiamine deficiency is considered rare in the United States. With that being said, people who mainly eat highly refined carbohydrates (such as white rice) or unfortified white flour products, or who avoid whole grains, may be at greater risk for a thiamine deficiency. People with prolonged diarrhea, Crohn's disease, and alcohol dependency may also be at risk. Strenuous exercise and conditions like hyperthyroidism increase the body's demand for thiamine, which can lead to a deficiency as well.

Benfotiamine can help restore thiamin levels and help prevent consequences of deficiency, such as nerve, heart, and brain conditions (including a serious condition known as Wernicke's encephalopathy).

In addition, some believe that benfotiamine in supplement form may aid in the treatment:

Proponents suggest that benfotiamine can shield the body from the harmful effects of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), glycotoxins found in high-fat meats that trigger inflammation and accelerate many aging-related degenerative diseases.

To date, relatively few studies have examined the potential health benefits of taking benfotiamine supplements. Here's a look at some key study findings:

Diabetes

With diabetes, high blood glucose levels can lead to vascular damage through several biochemical pathways, including through the formation of AGEs. This can lead to diabetic neuropathy, a condition characterized by nerve damage.

There is some research to support the idea that benfotiamine may confer protective benefits in this regard. Three of these pathways were found in one animal study to be inhibited by benfotiamine supplementation, indicating it may have a protective effect for people during the progression of this disease.

This effect was supported by another study, published in Diabetes Care in 2006, in which people with type 2 diabetes consumed 1,050 milligrams (mg) of benfotiamine daily and were given a meal high in AGEs before and after the three-day period. Benfotiamine appeared to protect against the oxidative stress induced by these dietary AGEs.

A 2008 double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase III study of over 100 patients found that a medium and high dose of benfotiamine (300 and 600 mg/per day, respectively) led to a non-significant trend toward improved neuropathy symptoms, with the higher dose being more effective.

Despite these promising results, one 12-week study published in PLoS One in 2012 found that benfotiamine didn't significantly affect markers that lead to hyperglycemia-induced vascular complications. Another 2012 study from Diabetes Care, found that 24 months of treatment with benfotiamine had no significant effects on peripheral nerve function or markers of inflammation in participants with type 1 diabetes.

Needless to say, more research is still needed.

Alzheimer's Disease

Amyloid plaques and reduction of glucose metabolism are key features of patients with Alzheimer's disease. According to a 2010 animal study, thiamine-dependent processes that are critical to the metabolism of glucose have been found to be impaired in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, but thiamine supplementation has found to not be effective. Because the body can more easily use benfotiamine than thiamine, and after eight weeks of treatment, reduced amylpid plaque numbers and improved cognitive function were found in the mouse model.

According to a small 2016 clinical study published in Neuroscience Bulletin, five participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease took benfotiamine (300 mg daily) for 18 months. At the study's end, the five participants showed cognitive improvement independent of amyloid plaque accumulation.

These results indicate that benfotiamine may be helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, however more research is needed for this use as well.

Possible Side Effects

Although little is known about the safety of taking benfotiamine for an extended period of time, there's some concern that benfotiamine supplements may trigger certain side effects such as:

  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Hair loss
  • Weight gain
  • Body odor
  • Decrease in blood pressure

According to a 2017 review, no side effects were reported in clinical trials of thiamine derivatives for a variety of disorders using doses between 300 and 900 mg per day. One study found that nausea and indigestion were reported by several participants when they reached 7,000 and 7,500 mg/day; even though benfotiamine is converted into thiamine in the body, the effects on the body may not be entirely the same. 

Benfotiamine is known to contain sulfur and should be avoided by anyone with a sulfur sensitivity.

Keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

Dosage and Preparation

According to one study, 320 mg of benfotiamine daily was more effective than 150 mg benfotiamine daily for patients suffering from painful peripheral diabetic neuropathy.

While not many dangerous side effects have been reported, getting up into extremely high doses is not advised as there has not been enough research to date.

Since effective doses have been observed in the 300 mg to 600 mg range for diabetic neuropathy and improved cognitive function in Alzheimer's patients, beginning with a lower dose is a good approach.

If you are considering taking the supplement, speak with your health provider to determine what, if any, amount is right for you.

What to Look For

Widely available for purchase online, benfotiamine supplements can also be found in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

When choosing from one of the available brands, it is a good idea to review the Supplement Facts label on the packaging of the product. This label will contain information about any added fillers, binders, or flavorings, as well as detail the amount of active ingredients per serving.

Look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third party organization that provides quality testing, such as ConsumerLab. This will assure that the product contains the ingredients as listed without harmful amounts contaminants. A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness, however.

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