Sulbutiamine is a thiamine derivative developed in Japan in the mid-60’s as a beriberi treatment drug. Since then, different potential applications have been described. For instance, there is some evidence that sulbutiamine can have anti-fatigue, nootropic, and antioxidant effects, which led to its use as a sport supplement (although some authors argue it is actually a masking doping strategy).
Moreover, this molecule has been proposed as a possible treatment for some microsporidial infections and even for certain types of cancer. Despite these potential effects, sulbutiamine is still a relatively unknown molecule, which justifies the present review, where we discuss its history and the existing literature on its health applications. We conclude that there is a great potential for sulbutiamine use, well beyond its first described function (to increase thiamine tissue concentration).
Indeed, new mechanisms of action have been found, mainly associated with its derivatives. Nevertheless, and although the research on sulbutiamine started 50 years ago, only a limited number of studies were conducted during this time frame. As so, methodological concerns need to be addressed and new studies are necessary, especially randomized controlled trials. Only then will the full potential of this versatile molecule be identified.
Casimir Funk – After reading an article by the Dutchman Christiaan Eijkman that indicated that persons who ate brown rice were less vulnerable to beri-beri than those who ate only the fully milled product, Funk tried to isolate the substance responsible, and he succeeded. Because that substance contained an amine group, he called it “vitamine”. It was later to be known as vitamin B3 (niacin), though he thought that it would be thiamine (vitamin B1) and described it as “anti-beri-beri-factor”. In 1911 he published his first paper in English, on dihydroxyphenylalanine.
Funk was sure that more than one substance like Vitamin B1 existed, and in his 1912 article for the Journal of State Medicine, he proposed the existence of at least four vitamins: one preventing beriberi (“antiberiberi”); one preventing scurvy (“antiscorbutic”); one preventing pellagra (“antipellagric”); and one preventing rickets (“antirachitic”). From there, Funk published a book, The Vitamines, in 1912, and later that year received a Beit Fellowship to continue his research.
Funk proposed the hypothesis that other diseases, such as rickets, pellagra, coeliac disease, and scurvy could also be cured by vitamins.