Benfotiamine is a synthetic version of thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, which is essential for many of the body’s functions including strengthening the immune system and protecting the brain. Benfotiamine is especially useful for protecting the body from the harmful byproducts of too much sugar and improving symptoms of diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Keep reading to learn more about this powerful supplement.
What Is Benfotiamine?
Benfotiamine is a fat-soluble derivative of thiamine (vitamin B1) that is more easily absorbed through digestion .
Mechanisms of Action
Benfotiamine works by:
- Activating the enzyme transketolase, a necessary part of the pentose phosphate pathway that turns sugars into sources of energy instead of harmful advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) [5, 2, 6, 6]
- Changing the production of specific enzymes (Nos3, PKB/Akt) to increase cell regeneration and reduce cell death [7, 8, 9, 10]
- Altering how energy is used in cells to enhance healthy growth and suppress cancerous growth [11, 7, 12]
- Decreasing inflammation in brain cells and white blood cells [11, 13]
- Inhibiting the GSK3b gene, which improves brain health [14, 15]
- Inhibiting the NOX4 gene, which improves the breakdown of sugar in muscles .
Health Benefits of Benfotiamine
1) Improves Complications from Diabetes
The most well-studied benefit of benfotiamine is in improving nerve damage that causes weakness, numbness, and pain (neuropathy) in diabetics.
In a study of 165 diabetic patients with neuropathy, benfotiamine for 6 weeks improved nerve damage .
Another study of 24 diabetic patients with neuropathy, 12 weeks of benfotiamine supplementation improved symptoms of neuropathy, including pain .
However, a long-term study in 59 type 1 diabetics found that benfotiamine supplementation for 24 months did not improve nerve function or reduce inflammation .
Daily supplements of benfotiamine protected 13 diabetic patients from the harmful effects of a meal that contained high levels of AGEs by reducing free radical damage and blood vessel dysfunction .
Benfotiamine protected the hearts of diabetic mice from the damaging effects of high blood sugar. Specifically, it improved blood circulation and strengthened heartbeats while reducing cell death .
Benfotiamine also protected human retinal cells from high blood sugar by stabilizing cell structure and reducing cell death .
Benfotiamine increased the breakdown of sugar while reducing the production of NOX4 in muscle fibers. The NOX4 gene is involved in heart failure, kidney failure, and diabetic nerve damage .
2) Protects the Brain
Benfotiamine reduced depression symptoms and improved mental function in mice by decreasing production of GSK3b. This triggers serotonin pathways that reduce anxiety and help heal damaged brain cell connections .
Benfotiamine also protected brain cells from free radical damage in mice .
Furthermore, in cell studies, benfotiamine reduced inflammation in brain cells, a known cause of neurodegenerative diseases. It did this by boosting brain immune defenses and anti-inflammatory signals while inhibiting inflammatory signals .
3) Reduces the Damaging Effects of Alcohol
A dose of benfotiamine 30 minutes after consuming alcohol protected the liver from damage in mice .
Alcoholics are typically deficient in thiamine, which impairs their cognitive abilities and psychological well-being. Daily dosage with benfotiamine improved depressive symptoms in 85 long-term alcoholics and reduced drinking in 21 female participants, indicating it may facilitate recovery [26, 27].
4) Protects Against the Harmful Effects of Smoking
Smoking increases inflammation and oxidative stress in blood vessels, which can eventually lead to blood vessel dysfunction. Benfotiamine reduced these harmful effects by half in 20 participants .
5) Protects the Kidneys
In a pilot study, benfotiamine enhanced the antioxidant defenses and reduced DNA damage in 15 hemodialysis patients .
6) May Improve the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
In studies of brain cells, benfotiamine prevented the accumulation of plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease by reducing the production of GSK3 .
7) May Reduce AGEs
Advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) are the harmful attachment of sugars to fats and proteins and are involved in aging, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, brain disorders, and hardening of the arteries [32, 33].
8) May Inhibit Cancer Growth
Benfotiamine inhibited the growth of leukemic tumors in cell studies by facilitating cell death and enhancing the effects of chemotherapy .
9) May Speed Recovery from Heart Attack
By enhancing the growth of new blood vessels and decreasing the rate of cell death in mouse hearts, benfotiamine improved the rate of recovery after a heart attack .
10) May Reduce Inflammation
Benfotiamine prevented cell death and inflammation due to bacterial toxins in mouse immune cells .
Limitations and Caveats
While the current research is promising on the benefits of benfotiamine, most double-blind, randomized controlled trials on the supplement concern diabetics with nerve damage. Additional DB-RCTs will be necessary to confirm the health benefits of benfotiamine in individuals with other diseases and conditions.
Synergistic Benefits of Benfotiamine and Other Treatments
1) Benfotiamine and Vitamins B6 and B12, Alpha-Lipoic Acid, and Fenofibrate Improves Diabetic Complications
Benfotiamine improved blood vessel health and kidney function in diabetic rats when combined with fenofibrate, a drug primarily used to reduce cholesterol .
2) Benfotiamine with Vitamins B6 and B12 Reduces Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
3) Benfotiamine and Resveratrol Reduce Pain
4) Benfotiamine and Anticonvulsants Reduce Nerve Damage Symptoms
5) Benfotiamine and Erythropoietin Improve Chemotherapy Side Effects
Benfotiamine protected nerves from damage due to chemotherapy in rats when paired with erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates the production of new red blood cells.
Side Effects & Precautions
There have not been any side effects or adverse effects from benfotiamine alone reported in the scientific literature. However, there is anecdotal evidence of a number of side effects, including nausea, dizziness, and low blood pressure.
Research on interactions involving benfotiamine and thiamine is lacking. Benfotiamine may be useful when taking medication or supplements that lower blood levels of vitamin B1, such as diuretics and certain heart medications [43, 44].
Benfotiamine contains sulfur and is therefore not recommended for people with sulfur sensitivity.
“My mother is in her upper 80s and has type 2 diabetes. For a year or two, she was getting neuropathy in her feet that caused so much pain, she could hardly walk without assistance. Her doctor had her try benfotiamine, and after a few days or so, she found substantial improvement, and there were no unwanted side effects… The doctor started her on 150 mg twice a day for the first month, and now she is on 100 mg twice a day, still with good effects.”
“I have fibromyalgia and chronic myofascial pain that once was accompanied by consistent burning leg pain… Benfotiamine was the only ingested substance that curbed the burning pain all day. Several times I ran out and within 1 – 2 days my legs were on fire again, so it was quite obvious the benfotiamine made a big difference.”
“Benfotiamine worked for me. I noticed effects within a few hours of taking it. My eyes felt stronger and did not tire easily when using the computer. I take two in the morning and two at night. I also have no more tingling in my hands, and my kidney seems to have stopped aching.”
“I read a research study on the use of this product for uveitis, a serious eye inflammation and a major cause of blindness. It worked in only 2 weeks, and it worked far better than the steroids. I have no more pain, no discoloration of my eye and no burning tears.”
“I’ve been taking this product for pain – sometimes kind of burning – in the bottom of my foot – the pain may be neurological, but the docs don’t know (I have no blood sugar issues). At first, I thought perhaps it was working, but now I’m not so sure (after 3 bottles at 300 mg 3x/day).”
“I am finishing my 5th bottle at 3 caps per day and as a person with neuropathy in my feet for 5 years I have experienced no improvement whatsoever.”
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