Over-the-counter nootropic Sulbutiamine may have cognitive benefits, but more research is needed.
Sulbutiamine is a vitamin B1 analogue commonly used for relieving fatigue and body weakness of neurological and myopathic origin. The potential nootropic properties of sulbutiamine include:
- Resistance to physical and mental fatigue. Sulbutiamine is used to treat asthenia and may have potential for helping other fatigue-related conditions.
- Support of memory and overall cognitive health. Sulbutiamine may help resist memory decline and cognitive dysfunction, possibly by reversing vitamin B1 deficiency.
Also known by its brand names Ereon, Arcalion, Bisibuthiamine and Youvitan, sulbutiamine (Su) is a synthetic compound made of two molecules of vitamin B1 (thiamine) bound by a sulfur group.1
Sulbutiamine was initially synthesized in Japan as a complementary treatment for vitamin B1 deficiency and asthenia (lack of strength or energy), with the initial studies of its effects documented in the early 1970s. It is the only anti-asthenic compound known to effectively cross the blood-brain barrier and to selectively act on specific brain structures involved in asthenia.
In the brain, Su is metabolized to vitamin B1 and related compounds such as thiamine triphosphate (TTP), which participates in the regulation of the synaptic neurotransmission.
Su is sold as a nootropic drug available over the counter in most countries, even though research data to support its psychoactive benefits is lacking.
How Sulbutiamine Might Help the Brain
Several potential mechanisms of sulbutamine’s actions have been identified. However, because of the scarcity of research and lack of human trials, they require further confirmation to be accepted.
Potential improvement of neural signaling within the brain
Based on a study in rats, Su may protect the brain’s hippocampal pyramidal neurons from oxygen and glucose deprivation.3
Potential regulation of glutaminergic and dopaminergic transmission
Su may also work by modulating the brain’s usage of the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate; injection of Su in rats was found to influence levels of dopamine and its metabolite 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid.4
Potential enhancement of the brain’s cholinergic activity
Behavioral studies in mice have shown that Su improves learning and memory through an increase in hippocampal cholinergic activity, which is linked to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Potential regulation the sleep-wake cycle
Semi-chronic treatment with Su has been shown to promote wakefulness in monkeys.5However, evidence for this comes from only a single study with a small sample size.
Sulbutiamine’s Potential Benefits
Sulbutiamine is marketed primarily as a nootropic drug. Supplement manufacturers claim that sulbutiamine supports memory, attention, mental stamina, and other aspects of cognitive function. Although there is some evidence of cognitive benefit in animal studies, there is currently not enough human data to substantiate these claims.
In addition, sulbutiamine may help with some symptoms of major depressive disorder, although more research is needed. Some chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) sufferers have also found it to be helpful as an off-label medication.
Sulbutiamine research is relatively scarce, but animal data reports that it may:
There is currently not enough data to substantiate the neurological benefits of Su. Moreover, the majority of studies on Su have been performed in France, and the English data is only available in the form of abstracts, therefore limiting the interpretation of these studies.
In this randomized, double-blind study, 326 patients suffering from chronic post infectious fatigue (CPIF) were treated with Su, 400 mg daily, Su, 600 mg daily, or placebo for 28 days. Su supplementation did not result in any significant effects on the study groups. Although on the 7th day of treatment women receiving Su 600 mg had less fatigue, no persistent effect was observed by the 28th day of treatment.
- The researchers concluded that “the effect observed after 1 week in women represents a true finding that needs additional research. Further studies are in progress in order to characterize better the potential usefulness of Su in chronic fatigue”9
In this randomized, double-blind trial, patients diagnosed with the early stage Alzheimer’s were treated with Su (Arcalion) or a cholinesterase inhibitor (Donepesil) for three months. Among the assessed cognitive functions (episodic memory, working memory, executive functions, attention) only attention was improved in both groups. For the three following months, Donepesil-treated patients were supplemented with placebo, and the Su group added Donepesil to their treatment. Attention, episodic memory and daily life activities improved in the combination treatment group.
- The researchers concluded that “Sulbutiamine can be an adjuvant to treatment in early stage and moderate AD by anticholinesterasic drugs” 10.
The purpose of this randomized, double-blind trial was to determine the safety and efficiency of Su in the therapy of psycho-behavioral symptoms in patients experiencing a major depressive episode (MDE). The study subjects were treated with Su (600 mg) or Clomipramine (75 to 150 mg daily) for 8 weeks. The patients treated with Su were significantly less disabled than the placebo group in all the aspects of psycho-behavioral inhibition such as the cognitive, emotional and behavioral facets.
- The researchers concluded that “Sulbutiamine has no anti-depressive effect but it can hasten the resorption of psycho-behavioral inhibition occurring during MDE”11
Dosage for Brain Health
- Most human trials of sulbutiamine use doses of 400-600 mg/day
- Commercial supplements provide 200-500 mg sulbutiamine per capsule
In the available clinical studies of Su, no major adverse effects were noted. The common side effects of Su are mostly attributed to the overdose of this preparation and include anxiety, euphoria, irritability, nausea, insomnia, and skin rashes.12 13
Supplements in Review Recommendation
- Sulbutiamine, 400 mg.
Although sulbutiamine research is lacking, it certainly has potential. Most research findings are positive and suggest that sulbutiamine may help with mental fatigue, memory, depression, and other aspects of mental health. Moreover, the popularity of its use as a nootropic warrants trying it out.
400 mg is the dose used by researchers and suggested by nootropic supplements. The most popular sulbutiamine supplements suggest doses of 400 mg, and successful studies have used similar doses of 400 – 600 mg.
- Bettendorff L et al. Injection of sulbutiamine induces an increase in thiamine triphosphate in rat tissues. Biochemical pharmacology 1990, 40(11):2557-2560 ↩
- Dmitriev DG et al. Clinical efficacy of the drug enerion in the treatment of patients with psychogenic (functional) erectile dysfunction. Urologiia 2005(1):32-35 ↩
- Kwag J et al. Evidence for Neuroprotective Effect of Sulbutiamine against Oxygen-Glucose Deprivation in Rat Hippocampal CA1 Pyramidal Neurons. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 2011, 34(11):1759-1764 ↩
- Trovero F et al. Evidence for a modulatory effect of sulbutiamine on glutamatergic and dopaminergic cortical transmissions in the rat brain. Neuroscience Letters 2000, 292(1):49-53 ↩
- Balzamo E and Vuillon-Cacciuttolo G. Facilitation of a state of wakefulness by semi-chronic treatment with sulbutiamin (Arcalion) in Macaca mulatta. Revue d’electroencephalographie et de neurophysiologie clinique 1982, 12(4):373-378 ↩
- Sobolevsky T and Rodchenkov G. Sulbutiamine in sports. Drug Testing and Analysis 2010, 2(11-12):643-646 ↩
- Micheau J et al. Chronic administration of sulbutiamine improves long term memory formation in mice: possible cholinergic mediation. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 1985, 23(2):195-198 ↩
- Bizot J-C et al. Chronic treatment with sulbutiamine improves memory in an object recognition task and reduces some amnesic effects of dizocilpine in a spatial delayed-non-match-to-sample task. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry 2005, 29(6):928-935 ↩
- Tiev KP et al. Treatment of chronic postinfectious fatigue: randomized double-blind study of two doses of sulbutiamine (400-600 mg/day) versus placebo. Rev Med Interne. 1999 Oct;20(10):912-8. ↩
- Ollat H et al: Effects of the association of sulbutiamine with an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor in early stage and moderate Alzheimer disease. Encephale 2007, 33(2):211-215 ↩
- Loo H et al. Effects of sulbutiamine (Arcalion 200) on psycho-behavioral inhibition in major depressive episodes. Encephale 2000, 26(2):70-75 ↩
- Kiew KK et al. Effects of Sulbutiamine on Diabetic Polyneuropathy: An Open Randomised Controlled Study in Type 2 Diabetics. The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences: MJMS 2002, 9(1):21-27. ↩
- Douzenis A et al. Sulbutiamine, an ‘innocent’ over the counter drug, interferes with therapeutic outcome of bipolar disorder. The world journal of biological psychiatry: the official journal of the World Federation of Societies of Biological Psychiatry 2006, 7(3):183-185 ↩