If you’re like us, you like nothing more than to start the day with a big cup of coffee and some delicious carb, like a blueberry muffin. And while researchers say there’s nothing wrong with that, both carbs and coffee/tea deplete your body of one of the most overlooked B vitamins: vitamin B1 or thiamine. And if you’re self-medicating symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog and anxiety using a cookie or a bagel, you could be caught in a vicious circle, say experts. You feel tired or anxious and reach for a cupcake, and then that very cupcake depletes the vitamin that would help make you feel calm and alert. How to break free of this cycle — and take your health to next level? Consider getting more of an especially easily-absorbed form of vitamin B1 called benfotiamine.
What is benfotiamine?
Derived from thiamine, benfotiamine is a fat-soluble form of vitamin B1. This ability to dissolve in fat allows benfotiamine to be better absorbed by the body than the water-soluble B1 typically found in supplements. In fact, a study published in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that benfotiamine boosted thiamine levels 400% more than conventional forms of vitamin B1 did.
What are the benefits of benfotiamine?
Benfotiamine can help reverse a thiamine deficiency — a condition Derrick Lonsdale, MD, associate emeritus professor at the Cleveland Clinic, calls a hidden health crisis. “Thiamine is crucial for mitochondria in cells to generate energy in the form of ATP,” he explains. And as nutrition expert Eric Berg, DC, author of The Healthy Keto Plan, adds, thiamine is essential for nerve function and the formation of red blood cells that carry energizing oxygen through the body.” Lonsdale’s own studies find that up to 90% of people don’t get the thiamine they need to protect against problems such as tiredness, agitation, mental fog and nerve damage.
How much thiamine do we need a day?
The FDA maintains we need 1.2 mg. of thiamine daily. But according to Dr. Lonsdale, that’s not enough to protect against shortfalls. Indeed, a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that 50% of people who got more than the recommended amounts of thiamine from their diets suffered from shortfalls in the vitamin.
What’s more, the government hasn’t changed the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for thiamine in over 80 years. In the meantime, the refined carbohyhdrates that boost blood sugar have become a major part of our diets. “And the more glucose you put into your system, the more B1 is required,” Berg says. That’s because the body relies on thiamine to convert glucose into energy. So as carb intake climbs, thiamine levels suffer. In a study conducted at University of Vienna, increasing carbs by 20% led to thiamine losses of up to 63%.
How can I tell if I’m thiamine-deficient?
Though blood tests can be used to diagnose a thiamine deficiency, they’re not an accurate gauge of how much thiamine is inside cells. Plus, doctors don’t typically test for deficits. In fact, findings in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry suggest even severe thiamine deficiency is overlooked by physicians in 80% of cases. Fortunately, telltale symptoms can help identify deficits. If you suffer from the following, low thiamine could be the culprit:
- Memory loss or foggy thinking
- Breathing difficulties
- Numbness or tinging in hands and feet
- Abdominal pain
Easy ways to increase thiamine levels
Findings in the journal Psychopharmacology reveal shoring up your body’s stores of thiamine leaves you significantly more clearheaded and energetic within 8 weeks. To do, Berg recommends supplementing with 150 to 300 mg of benfotiamine daily. A brand we like: Source Naturals Benfotiamine (buy on Amazon, $8.98). And the following steps can also help:
Eliminate thiamine-depleting foods
Cutting back on starchy, sugary carbs is key. In fact, a study published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research suggests the strategy can increase thiamine levels by 30% within four days. Also smart: Scaling back on coffee, tea and alcohol as much as possible, since the beverages diminish thiamine in the body.
Eat more thiamine-boosting foods
Pork, eggs, fish, seafood, asparagus and sunflower seeds are stellar sources of thiamine, so Berg advises enjoying them daily. He also recommends flavoring dips, salads and egg dishes and with nonfortified nutritional yeast. It not only adds a cheese-like taste, but a 3-tablespoon serving delivers 2.4 mg of thiamine.
How benfotiamine helps women with diabetes
In a study of patients with diabetic neuropathy, a dangerous diabetes complication that damages sensory nerves is the arms, hands, legs and feet, researchers found that supplementing with 600mg of benfotiamine a day reduced nerve pain by 79% within six weeks while significantly easing burning and numbness.
How it works: Benfotiamine inhibits the formation of advanced glycation end-products (AGES), toxic compounds that trigger deterioration of nerve cells. Plus, other research suggest its ability to blunt cell-harming AGEs throughout the body can combat other complications of diabetes. A study in the journal Diabetes Care determined benfotaimine blocked blood vessel damage due to AGEs. And in experiments conducted at University of Turin, it defended against the death of retinal cells that leads to a vision-robbing condition known as diabetic retinopathy.
“I reversed a thiamine deficiency and changed my life!”
Evelyn Brown, 53, battled exhaustion day after day — until she corrected the nutrient shortfall and restored her vitality.
“In 2021, I started feeling tired all of the time,” recalls Evelyn. “No amount of coffee would suffice. It took every ounce of energy I had to get out of bed each day and get ready for work. I have a husband, two children and a full-time job and it was increasingly difficult to keep up with it all.
“Instead of going out to dinner or taking a walk in the evening, I would crash on the couch until it was an acceptable bedtime. Then I would head to bed and start the routine all over again. No matter how much sleep I got, I was tired the next day. On top of that, I often found myself in a bad mood because I was too tired to complete my everyday tasks, like putting away laundry or washing dishes. Each day, my to-do list piled up, making me anxious.
“Over the course of a couple of months, I tried various remedies. I started drinking coffee and energy drinks throughout the day, but that only gave me temporary relief. I even tried going to bed earlier, but it didn’t make much of a difference. I was feeling really frustrated, so I googled answers to tiredness relief. But that only showed me a list of various diseases I might have. I freaked out and reached out to a doctor friend, who calmed me down and referred me to Melissa Baker, a licensed nutritionist and the founder of FoodQueries.com.
“After describing my chronic fatigue to her, Melissa suggested that I get blood work done to look at my thiamine levels. She suspected that the stressful nature of my job as a traveling event coordinator could be contributing to a thiamine deficiency, as the vitamin can get depleted while the body is making cortisol. Even though Melissa’s assumption added up, I was skeptical — I’d never even heard of a thiamine deficiency! Much to my surprise, the blood work came back showing that I did have a deficiency.”
“But the more Melissa explained it to me, the more it made sense. When I was stressed, I found myself reaching for unhealthy foods. It was a vicious cycle: The more stressed I was, the worse my diet became, and then that made me feel even more tired. Chips and ice cream were my go-to foods whenever something bad or taxing was happening. On top of everything, I learned that the caffeine I’d been relying on to boost my energy interfered with the absorption of thiamine!”
“Melissa drew up a list of thiamine-rich foods and gave me a sample diet. I was so excited to get started and begin feeling like myself again. Some of the thiamine-rich foods I incorporated into my diet were milk; legumes like black beans and peas; nuts (especially almonds and cashews); sunflower and pumpkin seeds; grains like white bread, quinoa and oats; proteins like tofu, pork, fish and eggs; and dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale.”
“Melissa explained to me that thiamine is a vitamin that is responsible for converting carbohydrates into energy — a process that provides more fuel for the body. But when the body is lacking thiamine, it can’t utilize carbohydrates effectively, leading to fatigue and exhaustion. She also told me that as we age, our bodies aren’t able to absorb nutrients as efficiently as they once did, so getting the proper amount of thiamine daily is extremely important for women over 50.
“After three weeks of making these changes, I saw a noticeable increase in my energy level. Much to my surprise, I would spring out of bed in the morning, feel actively engaged in my work during the day and have the boost in energy I needed to go for a walk after dinner. I began to feel more alert and focused and I even started taking fitness classes.
“Today, I’m thriving, and instead of dragging myself out of bed in the morning, I spring out of bed!
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This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.