What Is Benfotiamine?

Benfotiamine is a lab-made version of vitamin B1, also called thiamine. Scientists are studying it to see if it might help conditions like diabetes-related nerve damage, Alzheimer’s disease, and alcohol dependence.

Early research into the potential benefits of benfotiamine has shown some promise. But more evidence is needed to back up its health claims.

What’s the Health Link?

Thiamine, the natural version of benfotiamine, is a B vitamin you get from foods like whole grains, meat, legumes, and nuts. It helps cells in your body grow and work.

Thiamine deficiency -- when you don’t get enough thiamine -- is rare in the U.S. But low levels of it may be linked to certain health problems, including diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Researchers want to know if boosting those levels with supplements might help.

Your body might have a hard time absorbing thiamine. That’s where benfotiamine comes in. Benfotiamine, which turns into thiamine once it’s inside your body, may build up to helpful levels more easily.

Here’s what the research on this supplement says.

Diabetes Complications

Some early research suggests that benfotiamine on its own or with other B vitamins might ease symptoms of nerve damage, or neuropathy, in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. But the studies were small and lasted only weeks. Other research has found no benefits to the nerves.

It’s also unclear if benfotiamine may help prevent or treat other diabetes complications like heart failure, kidney disease (nephropathy), and eye damage (retinopathy).

Alzheimer’s Disease

The National Institute on Aging is funding a small pilot study to look at whether benfotiamine could slow the decline of mental skills, like thinking and remembering, in people with mild Alzheimer’s. If the results show promise, that may pave the way for more research.

So far, there have been no large, well-designed studies on benfotiamine as a treatment for Alzheimer’s.

Alcohol Dependence

A long-term drinking problem can lower your body’s levels of thiamine, the natural version of benfotiamine.

One small study suggests that a high daily dose of benfotiamine may help curb drinking in women with alcohol use disorder. Another study found it may ease mental distress in men who’ve stopped drinking to recover from severe alcoholism.

Still, much more research is needed.

Continued

What to Watch For

Some supplement makers claim that benfotiamine is good for your blood sugar, nerves, or immune system. Be wary of the hype. And talk to your doctor before you try it.

Tell them about any medications or other supplements you take. They can check to see if benfotiamine might affect the way your meds work. Ask your doctor which brand you should buy, and how much and for how long you should use it.

In certain studies, people who took 300-600 milligrams of benfotiamine by mouth every day saw no serious side effects. But it could give you a skin rash if you’re prone to allergies.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on January 03, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Heather M. Snyder, PhD, vice president, Medical & Scientific Relations, Alzheimer's Association.

Drug and Alcohol Dependence: “Double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial of benfotiamine for severe alcohol dependence,” “Change in psychiatric symptomatology after benfotiamine treatment in males is related to lifetime alcoholism severity.”

Diabetes Spectrum: “Dietary Supplements for Diabetes Are Decidedly Popular: Help Your Patients Decide.”

Diabetes Care: “The Effects of Long-Term Oral Benfotiamine Supplementation on Peripheral Nerve Function and Inflammatory Markers in Patients With Type 1 Diabetes,” “A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial on Benfotiamine Treatment in Patients With Diabetic Nephropathy.”

Circulation: Heart Failure: “Vitamin B1 Analog Benfotiamine Prevents Diabetes-Induced Diastolic Dysfunction and Heart Failure Through Akt/Pim-1–Mediated Survival Pathway.”

Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology: “Benfotiamine improves functional recovery of the infarcted heart via activation of pro-survival G6PD/Akt signaling pathway and modulation of neurohormonal response.”

Nature Medicine: “Benfotiamine blocks three major pathways of hyperglycemic damage and prevents experimental diabetic retinopathy.”

Journal of Diabetes Investigation: “Preventive effects of benfotiamine in chronic diabetic complications.”

National Institutes of Health: “Thiamin: Fact Sheet for Consumers,” “Thiamin: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Neuropathy (Peripheral Neuropathy).”

Harvard University: “Thiamin – Vitamin B1.”

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