Natural thiamine is water soluble meaning little is stored and any extra consumed is excreted fairly quickly from the body. Benfotiamine is different in that it has better bioavailability and can saturate the blood and peripheral tissues better than natural thiamine. For these reasons it may be preferred when therapeutic doses are needed. It was developed in Japan in the 1960s along with other thiamin-related compounds to better treat thiamine-deficiency (beri beri) and alcoholic neuropathy.
Benfotiamine has been widely used in Europe as a prescription and has been shown to be effective at slowing the progression of common complications associated with diabetes, including neuropathy and nerve pain, retinopathy, and kidney damage. While it does not lower elevated blood sugar, which damages cells and leads to complications, benfotiamine works by blocking the pathways that produce toxic byproducts as a result of the elevated blood sugar. One of these toxic byproducts is called advanced glycosylation end products, which has the very appropriate acronym “AGEs”.
These AGEs contribute not only to diabetes-related complications including heart disease, nerve damage, retinopathy, and kidney damage, but they also appear to play a role in aging of healthy people and other diseases.
AGEs are known to be involved in the development of arthritis. A study recently released in January 2013 (Clin J Pain. 2013 Jan 25) found that osteoarthritis sufferers receiving a supplement containing benfotiamine (50 mg)+pyridoxamine (50 mg)+methylcobalamin (500 µg) for 24 weeks had reduced markers of inflammation and AGEs, and had a reduction in reported pain while increasing mobility and daily activities. This same supplement also reduced endothelial dysfunction in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. AGEs contribute to chronic inflammation and endothelial dysfunction in RA sufferers.
Benfotiamine may reduce endothelial dysfunction by helping to protect endothelial cells in the lining of blood vessels. When these cells become damaged it can increase the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease and peripheral vascular disease which impedes blood flow to the extremities. In a 2012 study conducted on smokers, researchers found that taking benfotiamine significantly reduced the negative effects of smoking on vascular function. Smoking damages endothelial cells by increasing the effects of oxidative stress and inflammation. (Int J Vasc Med. 2012;2012:968761.)
This B vitamin-derivative appears to do much more than just prevent and cure thiamine deficiency. As millions of aging baby boomers begin to focus on “anti-aging” medicine, expect to see a growing interest in this compound and additional studies conducted. If you are currently being treated for a medical condition, please speak with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your current treatment regimen.
Megan Witt, RD, LD