Introduction to Benfotiamine

What is Benfotiamine?

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) moleculeThiamine or vitamin B1 is an essential nutrient that is absorbed poorly by the body, and therefor has to be taken in a variety of precursor forms. It is a vital cofactor for production of a number of essential enzymes including ones in the pathways of glucose metabolism.

Low levels of thiamine can lead to a number of health issues that include nerve and heart ailments, weakness and pain in the limbs, weight loss, and emotional disorders. Benfotiamine is a precursor of thiamine that was initially developed to treat alcoholic neuritis (nerve inflammation that is rather painful), in 1960’s in Japan.

Most traditional forms of thiamine are water-soluble, but benfotiamine is lipid-soluble which enhances its usability in the body. Consumption of benfotiamine raises the levels of thiamine in the blood and tissues, which in turn protects the body from health issues related to low levels of thiamine. Benfotiamine occurs naturally in onions, leeks and garlic, along with other members of the allium family.

Health Benefits of Benfotiamine

A natural component of our daily foods, benfotiamine offers many health benefits. And not being associated with any major risks, benfotiamine a uniquely safe supplement for people with nervous system issues, memory loss, and diabetes. It aids in averting complications due to diabetes when its absorption is enhanced in blood and liver.

It is also associated with providing anti-aging benefits. Thiamine is required by the nervous system and musculoskeletal system, for normal functionality. It also helps with digestion and regulating metabolism.

Studies prove that use of benfotiamine improves cognitive function. It decreases the production of amyloid plaque which is a vital factor in development of Alzheimer’s disease. With a combined improvement in cognitive abilities and decreased amounts of amyloid plaque being produced, it is believed that benfotiamine can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease (1).

Benfotiamine is Better Than the Common Thiamine Supplements

Nine (eight B vitamins and C) out of the 13 recognized vitamins are water-soluble, while the remaining (A, D, E & K) are fat-soluble. Since fat-soluble vitamins are better absorbed by the body, they remain longer in the body’s fatty tissues compared to the water-soluble vitamins. Thiamine is poorly absorbed by the body and is thus lost quickly, having poor bioavailability. Without replenishing thiamine on a regular basis, one can become deficient in just two weeks.

When benfotiamine is consumed orally, it is absorbed in the intestines and quickly converted to biologically functional thiamine salts. Eight days after consumption, roughly 25 % of the original dose is still available to the body; this is about 3.5 times more than the more commonly used types of thiamine supplements like those commonly available in multi-vitamin tablets (2).

A number of independent studies show that lipid-soluble benfotiamine is better absorbed by the body than the water-soluble variety. In 1998, ‘Bitsch’ and colleagues found that oral consumption of benfotiamine had the best absorption of the three variants of thiamine studied (3).

How Does Benfotiamine Work?

Harmful sugar addictionBenfotiamine blocks the damaging biochemical passageways that are responsible for nerve and small blood vessel damage, caused by high levels of sugar in the blood. Benfotiamine also enhances the activity of transketolase (an enzyme responsible for rendering toxic compounds harmless). It also prevents the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGE) in diabetic patients and normally aging individuals.

Formation of AGE’s is a major factor in cardiovascular disease and other age related disorders in people without diabetes, in addition to being responsible for nerve, kidney and retinal damage in people with diabetes.

There are two kinds of AGEs, those which are created by our bodies during naturally occurring chemical reactions and those we ingest from outside when we consume foods that have been browned by frying, roasting, barbequing, baking etc. AGE’s promote oxidative stress which eventually leads to organ and tissue damage.

Benfotiamine prevents the formation of AGE’s and minimizes the potential damage that may be caused.

Burning sensation, tingling and numbness are some of the symptoms of neuropathy (nerve damage), typically occurring in the hands or feet. While it is one of the most common complications of diabetes, it is brought on by other causes as well. Benfotiamine can provide relief to individuals suffering with neuropathy because B vitamins are vital to nerve damage repair and Benfotiamine is a very powerful form of vitamin B.

A number of studies have explored the effect of benfotiamine alone and in combination with other B vitamins to see their effect on diabetic neuropathy. In one placebo-controlled study 20 individuals with diabetic polyneuropathy were fed two fifty milligram benfotiamine tablets four times each day while 20 others were given a placebo. The three week study found significant improvement in neuropathy symptoms of patients receiving benfotiamine compared to those getting the placebo (4).

Benfotiamine Safety

When benfotiamine is taken orally, it is quickly metabolized yielding elevated levels of thiamine pyrophosphate, the normal working form of thiamine in the body. On its own benfotiamine does not collect in the body. In fact, the tests used for obtaining the original U.S. patent for benfotiamine show it to be less toxic than the normal vitamin B1 (usually thiamine hydrochloride).

Vitamin B1 has a long history of use as a supplement without there being reports of any negative effects. A search through medical literature turns up no reports of interactions with prescription drugs, foods, or other vitamins and supplements. There are also no reports of any side effects.

In Germany and Japan a dosage of 450 and up to 1000 milligrams a day are considered to be safe. In theory however, an overdose of benfotiamine could produce hot flashes, skin becoming slightly blue (as a result of rapid oxygen use), shortness of breath, and tingling, but in reality it does just not occur (and there are no records of such). The logical thing to do if you experience any of these symptoms is to stop taking the supplement at the first sign.

The only place where caution should be exercised when taking benfotiamine is if you are undergoing treatment for tumorous cancers. An understanding of why cancer patients should not use benfotiamine is only now beginning to be understood.

Cancer & Benfotiamine

Studies show that some cancer patients having fast growing tumours are prone to thiamine deficiency. According to studies conducted in animal models and cell cultures it appears that cells that divide quickly have a higher demand for thiamine. All fast dividing cells have a greater need for nucleic acids, and certain cancer cells depend greatly on the transketolase enzyme for nucleic acid synthesis.

One recent study found elevated amounts of transketolase in human breast cancer tissue in comparison to normal tissue, implying a thiamine adaptation in support of cancer metabolism. While thiamine supplements are routinely given to cancer patients to avert a deficiency, Boros et al. warn that additional thiamine may actually aid the growth of some tumors (5). Hence it is recommended that cancer patients should only use benfotiamine after careful consultations with their doctors.


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2 – Loew D. Pharmacokinetics of thiamine derivatives especially of benfotiamine. Int. J. Clin. Pharmcol. Ther 1996;34:47-50
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4 – Haupt E, Ledermann H, Kopcke W. Benfotiamine in the treatment of diabetic polyneuropathy – a three-week randomized, controlled pilot study (BEDIP Study). Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther2005;43:71-77
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About Andy James

Having poor health as a child, contracting a rare form of diabetes (diabetes insipidus) when he was just seven years old, and having been in a near fatal car wreck at the age of 33, Andy now focuses his mind on all things to do with improving ones health. The Benfotiamine Project was set up to explore benfotiamine, which helps the body to absorb Thiamine (vitamin B1). You can find out more about Andy on his Google plus profile, where you read his other health projects.

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