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Is Benfotiamine Effective for Treating Diabetic Complications?

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Updated March 19, 2007

Benfotiamine is a man-made form of thiamine or B1. Thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin and therefore not as easily used by the body. Benfotiamine is a fat-soluble composition and is better absorbed and utilized. There has been some evidence that benfotiamine may help relieve the severity of diabetic complications such as retinopathy, nephropathy and neuropathy.

Benfotiamine for Diabetic Neuropathy:

Benfotiamine has undergone several studies in recent years. The main focus of the studies involve using benfotiamine as a treatment for complications of diabetes.

Most diabetes complications are caused by prolonged hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) due to poorly controlled blood glucose or to disease progression over time. The excess glucose in the blood is deposited in nerve cells and small blood vessels of the extremities, causing damage in these areas which result in signs and symptoms of complications.

The Four Pathways to Cellular Damage:

There are four separate pathways that occur in the body that can lead to small blood vessel damage due to hyperglycemia in diabetes.

  • Advanced glycation endproducts (AGE)
  • Protein kinase C (PKC)
  • Hexosamine pathway activation
  • Polyol pathway activation

Benfotiamine appears to block three of these pathways in clinical studies. An article, which appeared in the journal Nature Medicine in February 2003, titled "Benfotiamine Blocks Three Major Pathways of Hyperglycemic Damage and Prevents Experimental Diabetic Retinopathy" showed that benfotiamine did prevent diabetic retinopathy in laboratory animals.

Advanced Glycation End Products:

Hyperglycemia causes damage in the blood vessels and nerves of the body, which in turn develop into the major complications of diabetes. Damage happens when excess glucose in the blood settles into the cells and forms a substance known as advanced glycation endproducts (AGE) These accumulate over time. AGE's are found in vessels of the eyes, kidneys and extremities. They also are found in other major blood vessels and lead to plaque formation and atherosclerosis, contributing to heart disease.

What Benfotiamine Does:

Studies have shown that benfotiamine seems to help prevent complications of neuropathy, retinopathy and nephropathy by inhibiting the build-up of glucose in the vessels. This means that the occurrence of diabetic complications might be slowed or prevented. A clinical study that appeared in the ADA journal Diabetes in 2003 showed that high-dose thiamine and benfotiamine seemed to prevent microalbuminuria and proteinuria (protein in urine) in diabetic rats. Studies done on people have shown that benfotiamine appears to also relieve neuropathic pain.

The Current Status of Benfotiamine:

Benfotiamine is still in the clinical trial phase. The studies have mostly been done on rats who have been induced to have diabetes. More intensive trials are needed to determine if benfotiamine works the same way in people with diabetes. Effective dosages have yet to be established, and long term side effects are not known.

Although benfotiamine is not officially recommended by American healthcare professionals at this time, it does look like it may be a promising treatment for diabetes complications down the road.

Approval Still Pending by the FDA:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved benfotiamine for public use. There are conflicts about how the substance should be labeled, whether as a dietary supplement or a vitamin. There are concerns about the overall safety of long term use of benfotiamine and what constitutes a safe dosage. The FDA requires more proof that benfotiamine produces the results seen in the trials.

Last year, benfotiamine was submitted to the FDA as a dietary supplement, but approval is pending at this time.

Sources:

Haupt, E., Lederman H., Kopcke W. "Benfotiamine in the Treatment of Diabetic Polyneuropathy - a Three Week Randomized, Controlled Pilot Study." International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Therapy and Toxicology Jun 2005: 304. PubMed.gov. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. 09 Mar 2007.

Huebschmann, MD, Amy G., Regensteiner, PHD, Judith G., Vlassara, MD, Helen,, and Reusch, MD, Jane E.B. "Diabetes and Advanced Glycoxidation End Products." Diabetes Care 2006 1420-1432. 09 Mar 2007.

Melpomemi, MD, Peppa, Uribarri, MD, Jaime, and Vlassara, MD, Helen. "Glucose, Advanced Glycation End Products, and Diabetes Complications: What Is New and What Works." Clinical Diabetes 2003 186-187. 09 Mar 2007.

Stirban, MD, Alin, Negrean, MD, Monica, Stratmann, PHD, Bernd, Gawlowski, MS, Thomas, Horstmann, Tina, Gotting, PHD, Christian, Kleesiek, MD, Knut, Mueller-Roesel, MD, Michaela, Koschinsky, MD, Theodor, Uribarri, MD, Jaime, Vlassara, MD, Helen and Tschoepe, MD, Diethelm, "Benfotiamine Prevents Macro- and Microvascular Endothelial Dysfunction and Oxidative Stress Following a Meal Rich in Advanced Glycation End Products in Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes." Diabetes Care 2006 2064-2071. 13 Mar 2007.

"Drugs to Treat Complications." From Research to Reality. 2005. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International. 18 Mar 2007.

Hammes, Hans-Peter, Xueliang Du, Diane Edelstein, Tetsuya Taguchi, Takeshi Matsumura, Qida Ju, Jihong Lin, Angelika Bierhaus, Peter Nawroth, Dieter Hannak, Michael Neumaier, Regine Bergfeld, Ida Giardino, Michael Brownlee. "Benfotiamine Blocks Three Major Pathways of Hyperglycemic Damage and Prevents Experimental Diabetic Retinopathy." Nature Medicine, 18 Feb. 2003 294-299. 18 Mar 2007.

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