Sulbutiamine is a substance used as an ingredient in some dietary supplements. It is synthetic—created in a laboratory from thiamine (vitamin B1)—and can have mild stimulant effects. Sulbutiamine was developed in the 1960s as a drug to treat thiamine deficiency. Later, it was branded as a drug named Arcalion and used in some countries to treat symptoms of weakness or lack of energy. Although sulbutiamine is currently sold as an over-the-counter drug in some countries, it has not been approved as a drug for any use in the U.S. Instead, it is added to some dietary supplement products marketed to enhance cognitive function and improve memory, mood, and energy. It is also used in other dietary supplements, such as fat-burner and pre-workout products.

Sulbutiamine is on the DoD Prohibited Dietary Supplement Ingredients list. There is insufficient evidence to determine if it is safe or effective.

What does the science say?

Very little research exists on the effects of sulbutiamine. Early laboratory research indicated various effects on the brain. Very limited research has been done with humans to look at the use of sulbutiamine for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, chronic fatigue, and neuropathy. However, no positive or negative results from any studies have yet been replicated. As a result, insufficient evidence exists to say if sulbutiamine (as a drug) could be effective for any health-related outcome. No studies exist to confirm any claimed benefit for sulbutiamine as a dietary supplement ingredient.

Is it safe to take?

The few side effects reported with the use of up to 600 mg per day (for as long as 2 months) include nausea, headache, insomnia, diarrhea, tremor, agitation, palpitations, and cough. Long-term effects are unknown, and no safe amount has been established. However, some websites suggest using as much as 1000 mg sulbutiamine per day. Because sulbutiamine is on the DoD Prohibited Dietary Supplement Ingredients List, Service Members should avoid this ingredient.

How can I watch out for this ingredient?

If you read dietary supplement labels, you will often see sulbutiamine listed as part of a proprietary blend—that is, combined with other ingredients. The blends often include stimulants or other ingredients—some also prohibited for Service Members, such vinpocetine, higenamine, and hordenine. When you see combinations of stimulants listed on a product label, this should be a red flag. There is no evidence to suggest a cocktail of stimulants will be safe.

Other names for sulbutiamine you might find on a product label are:

  • sulbutiamina
  • sulbutiaminum
  • arcalion
  • bisibutiamin
  • O-isobutyroylthiamine disulfide

Bottom line

Sulbutiamine is an unapproved drug and on the DoD Prohibited Dietary Supplement Ingredients List. It is unknown how products containing sulbutiamine might affect your readiness or health.


Posted 23 May 2023


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