Throughout the history of medicine, performing research on oneself has been time-honored. Before I describe the experiment on myself, I must digress. As many readers on this website know, I have written a great deal about thiamine and its use in therapy. In particular, I have long been interested in a derivative of this vitamin that is to be found naturally occurring in garlic. It has been synthesized and sold under various trade names. Its chemical name is complex, so I use the initials TTFD. Without going into details, its action is superior to that of the thiamine from which it is derived. I have used TTFD for the treatment of hundreds, if not thousands, of patients. Over the years, I became certain that there was no bad side to its use, whatever the dose. My experiment proved me wrong but in a way that I should have anticipated.
Vitamins Work Together
Vitamins work as a team and thiamine is a member of a group of vitamins known as the B complex that is vital to energy metabolism. We are however beginning to learn that vitamins, either singly or given in a group, can be used as drugs and it requires a great deal of research in order to understand completely these relationships if they are used therapeutically. As I have a particular condition that is precancerous, I have been attempting to find ways and means of preventing the possible onset of cancer by the daily use of a variety of nutrient supplements. We now know that thiamine is implicated in many conditions, including cancer.
For some time I had been taking 100 mg of TTFD a day and one tablet of B complex. I raised the dose of TTFD to 200 mg a day without raising the dose of B complex to see if I could perceive any difference in what I experienced. After about a month with this dose, I was getting into bed one evening and was suddenly afflicted with the worst pain in my left leg that I had ever experienced. It appeared to be muscular pain because any movement would sharply increase the pain and often cause me to cry out involuntarily. Sleep was of course impossible and at about 3 AM, one night last week, I remembered a manuscript that I had come across that purported to relieve pain by an injection of vitamins B1, B6, and B12, administered separately or in combination. I took three tablets of B complex (three times the previous daily dose) and about 15 minutes later I noticed some diminution in the pain. I waited a while before repeating the dose of B complex twice more and within about 45 minutes I was pretty well pain free. It was a shattering experience that demanded some form of explanation, if possible.
The Mechanics and Biochemistry of B Vitamins
My personal explanation is as follows. Each member of the B group of vitamins has a vital part to play in energy metabolism and I had produced an artificial balance between them that severely decreased the efficiency of their combined action. An analogy may help to explain what I am talking about. Imagine a machine that relies on cogwheels, such as a clock. The motor, whether it be clock-work or electric, passes the energy via the cog-wheels to the hands of the clock. The very first cogwheel in the series is the master, because without it nothing happens. The rest of the cogwheels are just as important but only function because of the first one.
The energy that our cells require is passed through a series of enzymes that are the equivalent of the cogwheels. Each enzyme requires one or more cofactors that can be thought of as a special lubricant that differs for each cogwheel. Imagine now that the first cogwheel is an enzyme that requires thiamine and you have added so much lubricant that it causes the meshing with the next cogwheel to slip. The motor keeps running but the transmission breaks down. Like all analogies, this is imperfect. Thiamine is known as the rate limiting factor in the enzyme complex that demands the presence of all the B vitamins. You can think of thiamine as being the dominant member but no less essential than the others.
Vitamins as Drugs
A drug is “a substance that, when ingested, alters physiological actions in the body”. That definition automatically excludes each vitamin and essential mineral, such as magnesium, as a drug under normal healthy circumstances because each is essential to normal human and animal physiology. However, we are completely dependent on appropriate nutrition in order to acquire the vitamins and essential minerals. Because we no longer obey the life rules of Mother Nature, it has become exceedingly easy to develop (non-caloric) nutrient deficiency. It particularly applies to the B complex because of its essential role in liberating energy from glucose. We know from studies of thiamine deficient diets in human subjects that the earliest symptoms are “emotional” in character and may be classified as “psychosomatic”. If the symptoms are not recognized and go on for years, we can assume that the structure of the enzymes deteriorates. If and when clinical and biochemical recognition occurs, it would seem logical to assume that the vitamin cofactor would have to be increased drastically in order to reconstitute the enzyme. The vitamin is therefore used under those circumstances as a drug until reconstitution is complete. When the normal activity of the enzyme is restored, the vitamin returns to its state as a nutrient and its therapeutic dose needs to be reduced.
Prevention Versus Recovery
In my case, the explanation may be different. I was taking a colossal dose of TTFD with insufficient concentrations of the B complex, perhaps causing an imbalance in the selective activities of each. If that is the mechanism, I can only guess that it interfered with oxidative metabolism. Also, I can no longer state that there is no “toxicity” from taking large doses of TTFD. It does seem to imply that the remainder of the B complex should always be used with TTFD. We know that beriberi patients required 100 mg of thiamine three times a day for months. If blood sugar was normal they always responded. If there was hyperglycemia the response was slower. If there was hypoglycemia, some did not respond at all. We can be sure that the thiamine dependent enzymes were sick and that they were being reconstituted by thiamine being used as a drug. Thus, my situation is quite different than treating a thiamine deficient patient. High doses are required only for sick thiamine dependent enzymes that have long been lacking sufficient concentrations of their cofactor(s). Preventive therapy is different than long-term deficiency.