The older we get, the more likely we are to bring up the topic of brain health. You may have heard your friend talking about the simple omega-3 supplement she now takes every morning, or the crossword puzzle she tries to complete every weekend. While all this talk of keeping your memory sharp can get old, it’s a common topic for a good reason.
Approximately one person in the U.S. receives a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease every 65 seconds, according to the Burke Neurological Institute. The race to cure this deadly illness is more important than ever, as the presence of Alzheimer’s is likely to increase with our progressively aging population.
Fortunately, new research is promising. A recent study performed by researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease shows that a simple treatment may have very beneficial effects in patients with mild cognitive impairment. The drug in question? Benfotiamine, which is a high-dose form of vitamin B-1, also known as thiamine.
Conducted at the Burke Neurological Institute in Dr. Gary E. Gibson’s laboratory, the study was a small, exploratory clinical trial that tested the safety and benefits of Benfotiamine on people with mild cognitive impairment and mild Alzheimer’s disease. Over the course of 12 months, 34 participants were treated with Benfotiamine and 36 received a placebo. The researchers discovered that long-term Benfotiamine treatment was not only safe to use, but had significant benefits. Overall, the participants receiving the drug performed far better on an Alzheimer’s assessment scale. Their clinical dementia rating (CDR) scores were also 77 percent lower than the scores of the placebo group. In other words, those who took Benfotiamine experienced 77 percent less brain deterioration than their counterparts. Benfotiamine even reduced the presence of certain proteins and lipids in the brain that accumulate with age and have negative effects in the brain.
These findings are supported by a previous study, which was published in the Neuroscience Bulletin in 2016. During this investigation, five patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease took 300 mg of Benfotiamine orally on a daily basis for 18 months. All five participants demonstrated improved cognitive abilities on a mental-status examination.
Why might vitamin B-1 have such a significant effect on brain health in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients? According to the researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine, thiamine can improve the way the brain utilizes glucose, or sugar. In fact, a paper in Brain: A Journal of Neurology points out that thiamine is absolutely critical to the brain’s ability to metabolize glucose, and a reduction in glucose metabolism is one of the main characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease.
What’s even more interesting? Patients living with Alzheimer’s disease may suffer from a decrease in their brain’s glucose metabolism 20 to 30 years before they develop any signs of memory loss. In effect, the supplementation of vitamin B-1 in such patients may help prevent the onset of cognitive decline.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should start purchasing vitamin B-1 or the drug Benfotiamine in bulk. Harvard Health warns that there isn’t solid proof that brain-health supplements will improve your memory performance, especially because over-the-counter supplements aren’t tested by the FDA for reliability or ingredient accuracy. It’s also unclear whether the vitamins and nutrients that can improve mental function have the same effects in pill-form as they do in food-form.
Fortunately, vitamin B-1 deficiency is rare in the United States because it is naturally found in a variety of foods including:
- Beans and lentils
- Green peas
- Enriched cereals
- Sunflower seeds
Be sure to speak with your doctor if you want to try taking a thiamine supplement. Depending on your cognitive health and whether you have a chronic illness that can cause thiamine deficiency, it could be a wise option. Otherwise, continue enjoying meals full of fresh fish, beans, and other thiamine-rich foods if you want to protect your brain health.