Benfotiamine is a substance that, when taken orally, is converted into thiamine (Vitamin B-1). It is found naturally in plants
of the onion family, but the amounts present are miniscule.
Thiamine has been used for many years to treat neurological disorders. But this form of the vitamin is poorly absorbed and rapidly
metabolized, making it difficult to achieve therapeutic levels in the body.
Benfotiamine, being fat-soluble, solves this bioavailability problem. Taken orally, it is well absorbed and remains in the body for days. Consequently, benfotiamine can raise thiamine concentrations in the blood and tissues about 5 times higher than oral thiamine
What we can’t tell you
In the U.S. and some other industrialized countries, government agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
have adopted censorship as a method for intensifying their control over the supplement industry and its customers.
Thus, FDA regulations prohibit us from telling you that any of our products are effective as medical treatments,
even if they are, in fact, effective.
Accordingly, we will limit our discussion of Benfotiamine to a brief summary of relevant research,
and let you draw your own conclusions about what medical conditions it may be effective in treating.
Medical research has found evidence supporting the use of benfotiamine for preventing the following conditions:
- diabetes-induced vascular damage
- neuropathy due to diabetes or alcohol consumption
- diabetic retinopathy and nephropathy
- tissue damage and aging due to protein cross-linking
- genetic damage in late-stage kidney disease
- nerve damage due to vitamin B-1 deficiency after gastric bypass surgery.
How does it work?
Generally speaking, benfotiamine supplements serve as a source of thiamine and therefore increase the concentrations of this
vitamin in the body. Thiamine itself plays at least two biological roles:
- increasing the rate at which glucose is converted to other sugars;
- maintaining conduction of information along nerve fibers.
Thus, thiamine works to prevent high concentrations of glucose from developing in cells and thereby decreases the damaging
effects which glucose has on the body’s tissues. And thiamine also helps to maintain nerve function.
How can glucose be damaging to the body? Isn’t it one of the body’s main sources of energy? Yes, glucose is the most common
of all sugars — it is a basic constituent of honey and table sugar, and is the building block of starches and other carbohydrates.
Nevertheless, glucose has two tragic down-sides:
- during the metabolism of glucose (i.e., when cells break down glucose to extract its energy), free radicals are produced which
then proceed to damage the surrounding tissues;
- a small portion of the glucose molecules, instead of being metabolized, react chemically with proteins in the tissues, producing
crosslinks (‘AGEs’) that impede or inactivate the proteins. The result is a loss of flexibility and function in skin, muscle,
and all other living tissues.
Both of these side effects of glucose consumption are destructive to the body. They are considered major contributors to the
aging process as well as to the failure of organs and tissues in diabetes.
But this damage can be limited if glucose levels in the body’s cells can be kept low. And they can be kept low if excess glucose can be rapidly converted to less harmful substances. Thiamine is a biological cofactor that
does exactly this — it promotes the conversion of glucose into other, less harmful sugars, as well as promoting the breakdown of glucose into
carbon dioxide, water, and energy. Since benfotiamine is converted into thiamine in the body, benfotiamine supplementation
is equivalent to dramatically increasing the bioavailability of thiamine.
Diabetes causes tissue damage in many — perhaps all — bodily tissues. This is to be expected, since the hallmark of diabetes
is a failure to limit the body’s exposure to high glucose levels — levels that will cause damage to any type of tissue. However,
some kinds of glucose-related damage can be prevented, or even reversed, by benfotiamine. Among these are:
- vascular damage due to protein cross-linking;
- damage to limbs caused by wounds and inadequate blood supply;
- damage to retina and other tissues by free radical production;
- dysfunction of nerves and kidneys due to a variety of mechanisms.
Alcoholics absorb thiamine poorly, and often show symptoms of thiamine deficiency. One of the results of such deficiencies is nerve damage, especially in the extremities. Benfotiamine supplements can reverse
some of these neuropathic symptoms. For example, in a 2001 study, patients with alcoholic polyneuropathy were given benfotiamine
at 450 mg/day for 2 weeks followed by 300 mg/day for 4 weeks. The researchers reported a regression in sensor and movement
disorders, as well as some neuropathy symptoms.
Indirect evidence suggests that thiamine plays a fundamental, but still-obscure, role in cell signalling — not only in mammals,
but throughout the biological world. During the evolution of nerves as specialized communication cells, this role of thiamine
evolved, too. For example, thiamine came to be involved in controlling the pores in nerve cell membranes through which ions
pass during neural activity. Thus, thiamine levels seem to be correlated with the efficiency with which nerves conduct information.
Gastric bypass surgery
Gastric bypass surgery can leave some patients with nutritional deficiencies because certain vitamins, such as vitamin B-1,
normally get absorbed in the parts of the digestive tract that have been bypassed. Symptoms of such B-1 deficiencies include numbness and weakness in arms and legs, and cognitive failures.
Injections of vitamin B-1 are sometimes used to correct such B-1 shortages, but benfotiamine offers a more convenient approach
that can — and should — be followed soon after surgery rather than waiting for symptoms of nerve damage to appear.
Why not just take oral B-1 supplements after gastic bypass surgery? Because benfotiamine’s ability to raise B-1 levels in
the body is 5 times greater than that of oral B-1 supplements or of other B-1 derivatives.
Because of benfotiamine’s reputation for improving nerve conduction and preserving tissue flexibility, it has become popular
with body-builders. Bodybuilders know from experience that muscles perform better when the nerves controlling them work better
and when the muscle tissue itself is flexible.
Benfotiamine has an excellent safety record. No reports of toxicity can be found in the medical literature.
A good overview of Benfotiamine and its uses is the one by Thorne Research. Another good Thorne Research review is their discussion of peripheral neuropathy.
Are Benfotiamine supplements useful for the conditions and purposes mentioned above?
We aren’t allowed to tell you, so you should take a look at some of the references cited here,
and then decide for yourself.