scoliosis and impaired oxidative metabolism

What Is Scoliosis?

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As everyone knows, the spinal column is made up of a series of bones known as vertebrae. Like bricks in a column, they collectively support the entire body in an upright position. Their anatomy is very complex because, collectively, they have to allow for the spinal column to bend in every direction without parting company with each other. Sometimes a child develops a permanent bend in the spinal column known as scoliosis. It usually develops relatively slowly and is usually watched by anxious parents as it becomes more severe. Anyone reading this who has had experience of it will know that the treatment is very advanced surgery in which the spinal column is straightened and supported with steel rods. This post is to try to explain why scoliosis happens and how it may possibly be prevented.

Brain Symmetry

Most people know that the left half of the body is controlled by the right side of the brain and vice versa. The reason for this asymmetry is unknown. However, asymmetry appears to be pretty important with many aspects of brain function. For example, I collected 17 patients, in each of whom their respective blood pressure was totally different in the two arms. The difference was so great that I imagined such an individual, when visiting a physician, would leave the office with a blood pressure pill if the pressure had been measured in the arm on the higher side, and without it if it had been taken in the arm on the low side. As most people know, the blood pressure is taken almost invariably in only one arm. The blood pressures in my 17 patients were compared with healthy controls. Although the pressures of controls varied only slightly in the two arms, the difference was extremely obvious when compared with the patients.

The asymmetry in the patients was greatly exaggerated, whereas in the controls it was minimal. This asymmetry is capable of increasing in direct relationship to loss of efficient metabolism in the control mechanisms in the brain. The loss of efficiency may be due to genetic effect or long-term malnutrition. These 17 patients had many symptoms, indicating that their autonomic nervous system was compromised because of poor oxidative metabolism. The symptoms responded to treatment with nutritional elements.


We have two nervous systems, known respectively as the voluntary and autonomic. The voluntary system enables us to use free will, whereas the autonomic is automatic and organizes brain/body functions that we cannot control voluntarily. The prefix dys means abnormal, so dysautonomia refers to abnormal function of that system. This can be due to genetic influence or from metabolic changes related to poor diet. One of the abnormalities that can occur is that the normal mild asymmetry in autonomic control can become exaggerated, giving more power to one side of the body than the other. Under normal healthy conditions, this asymmetry is much less marked. In fact, it is well known that all of us have some degree of asymmetry. One foot may be slightly bigger than the other or one eye may be a little bit more closed than the other. The autonomic nervous system is deployed to every part of the body and is the messenger system by which the brain controls all the organs that together, create body functions.

What Has This to Do with Scoliosis?

The spinal column is lined by very strong ligaments and muscles. It is these muscles that enable us to bend in every direction. However, those muscles are kept in what is called constant tone. Notice the hardness of the muscles in the low back. They feel to the touch like steel almost. This is because they are kept in tone as a permanent support. This tone is maintained through the autonomic nervous system by constant signals from the brainstem to the muscles surrounding the spinal column. The voluntary system can overcome the autonomic signals to enable us to bend as we wish. Asymmetric signaling to the muscles on either side of the spinal column occurs in health but may be only slight. If however, control mechanisms in the lower part of the brain are metabolically inefficient, asymmetric signaling evidently increases.   If the tonic signals have exaggerated asymmetry, the tone of the muscles on one side of the spinal column will have stronger signals than on the other side. This explains why the scoliosis occurs gradually, but we have to realize that the real cause of the disease is because of the exaggerated asymmetry in the autonomic nervous system. In other words, scoliosis can be a disease of the autonomic nervous system as well as from genetic changes in the vertebral column.

An experimental treatment for scoliosis was reported some years ago in which electrodes were attached to the weaker muscles on the convex side of the scoliosis and tonic electrical signals attempted to straighten the spinal column. I do not know what happened to that experiment, but it seems to me that scoliosis should be treated by preventive treatment of the dysautonomia. The patients with the asymmetric blood pressures all had evidence of dysfunctional oxidative metabolism in the lower part of the brain, an effect that can be produced by thiamine deficiency. All of them were treated by nutritional therapeutic measures with variable degrees of success. Quite a few of them, but not all, had thiamine deficiency as the underlying cause. It was concluded therefore that it was oxidative dysfunction, for any cause, in the brain that was the underlying cause of the exaggerated asymmetry, whether this was genetic or nutritional in origin. They responded to a number of intravenous infusions of water-soluble vitamins, all of which contained thiamine. The control mechanisms of the autonomic nervous system in the lower part of the brain are particularly prone to develop thiamine deficiency. Therefore this is an important cause of inefficient oxidative brain metabolism.


As far as I know, prevention of scoliosis has never been attempted and what follows is therefore a hypothesis based on some evidence. It may well be that nutrition of the mother in pregnancy can induce faulty metabolism in the fetus that may deploy its effect in many different ways. We now know that thiamine deficiency is common in pregnancy and most of its complications can be prevented by taking a modest dose of thiamine, starting even before pregnancy. Since the major effect of thiamine deficiency is dysautonomia, perhaps the exaggeration of asymmetry can be prevented. The new science of epigenetics enables some modification of genetic defects. A mouse model has shown that the combination of a genetic risk factor with short-term gestational hypoxia (oxygen deficit) significantly increases the gene penetrance and severity of vertebral defects. There is no harm in a supplement of thiamine during pregnancy. Whether it would be capable of preventing scoliosis would depend on its disappearance from the medical literature and would be a long-term goal.

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This article was published originally on August 28, 2017. 

Derrick Lonsdale M.D., is a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition (FACN), Fellow of the American College for Advancement in Medicine (FACAM). Though now retired, Dr. Lonsdale was a practitioner in pediatrics at the Cleveland Clinic for 20 years and was Head of the Section of Biochemical Genetics at the Clinic. In 1982, Lonsdale joined the Preventive Medicine Group to specialize in nutrient-based therapy. Dr. Lonsdale has written over 100 published papers and the conclusions support the idea that healing comes from the body itself rather than from external medical interventions.


  1. Dr Lionsdale, I need to be able to contact someone that can address the issues I have contracted because of having been in the back brace 24/7 for 2.5 yr during the 14-17 yr old growth period of my life. Starting 2 months after I got out I started with the pain and swelling in my hands and feet. I’ve been dx with dysautonmia but my symptoms are really correct, my BP is too high, not low, my hands have burning pain which wakes me up at night. I’ve other pain throughout my body. I am willing to talk with a researcher but it needs to be in someone researching the things that happen as a result of bracing. Please email me at with anyone who may be able to help me. Thank you

  2. I had a 76 degree scoliosis curve st 14.5 when i was placed in a bracw 24/7 for 2.5 yrs. Upon release w/in 2 months my hands n feet swelled and i negan having pain which gradually became debilitating. After 39 yrs of being mis dx’d, put on 1 wrong med, thyroid cancer, gestational diabetes, insulin resistance, dx of fibromyalgia etc and now symptoms, of heart murmur, orthostatic hypertension n more, I’ve been dx’d with dysautonomia & sfpn. My neurologist dr gave me the dx and told me to google it. On my own ive made appts to deal w it symptomatically but need better help. I am willing to help with research in order to better make the connection of scoliosis to dysautonomia and sfpn please please contact me or forward my contact info to someone else who could help

    • Lauren, I am not a doctor, but have come from a family that exhibits most ALL of the severe thiamine deficiency symptoms, including severe scoliosis in many family members. I am in my 60s and have been reading medical literature looking for answers to our wide array of issues all of my life. I believe that Dr. Lonsdale and Dr. Marrs have hit the nail on the head with their book and articles about thiamine and dysautonomia, and I STRONGLY suggest you read all they have written! I’ve been taking the basics Dr. Lonsdale recommends–magnesium, allithiamine, a B complex and a multivitamin–for about three months now and feel better than I have have in 20 years, and maybe better than I ever have. I am also taking 2,000-3,000 mg vitamin C, and have cut out all sugar though I still have a glass of wine with dinner (working on that as it is a social issue that comes with some pressure!)

      My grandmother and her sisters had SEVERE, debilitating scoliosis, and all relatives on that side have beriberi symptoms. A struggle just to get through life for all of us! “I can’t, I can’t” says it all, I’m afraid. That is changing for me now, and it is my prayer my own children’s lives will be different. I suggest you read through all the thiamine articles on this site–I bet you see yourself in them, as I did, and perhaps your family too.

      I have spent a lifetime trying a variety of things and a multitude of doctors to figure out our problems, and am finding out it is as simple as taking a few targeted pills, and only a moderate change in diet. If only I had known this 20 years ago!!

  3. I have heard that stomach cancer is caused by bacteria H Pillory and that cervical cancer is caused by HPV. And like those, that are other cancers probably caused by opportunist predators of our immune system such as: protozoans and fungus. Apparently, they somehow hide from our immune system or immobilize it keeping it from doing its job .

    However, I also believe that some look like they are caused by diabetes because insulin resistance/carbohydrate resistance can ended up causing intracellular acidity, right? Thiamine deficiency causes lacto acidosis, right?. Just wonder if cancer patients should be tested for insulin resistance if proper thiamine test is not available when cancer is detected. Would this information be useful? There is also the deficiency of B1 caused by the chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments that may keep the patient from get well. Just wonder if resistance to medication is not caused by exhaustion of some elements that even the drug needs to work? Magnesium, B1 and the Bs. For example, we now know that statins causes deficiency of CoQ10, and that it causes serious muscle problems, right? What is the point of giving it to a person with heart problems? The doctor should at minimum supplement it, right? And that happened with a friend that is a doctor herself.
    I can see that many cancer patients under treatment show signals of beriberi, but they only do something if this patient shows wernick;s encephalopathy.

    However, I can see that there are studies showing that it is ok to give it IF in high doses. What if it is not given in so high doses but in together with a supplement/medication that causes apoptosis like DCA?

  4. Your comments raise a few questions. One of the things that I have learned is that energy deficiency is probably the leading cause of all disease. This sounds so improbable as to be laughable. Using an analogy, a car however well-built would be useless without gasoline, oxygen and some kind of ignition. Turning that analogy into a useful way of thinking about the body, we have diabetes type 2, that is insulin resistant, probably sickness of the membrane surrounding the cells that respond to insulin. We have diabetes type I in which there is insulin deficiency. Even though each type has a different underlying cause both of them are now known to require 100 mg of thiamin a day to prevent complications. Using the analogy, thiamin is the equivalent of a spark plug in the cylinder. We have known for a long time that the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease is related to thiamin metabolism. This disease is now considered to be diabetes type III. We have also known for a long time that oxidative metabolism is compromised in cancer cells. Thiamin deficiency in cancer has been published and this disease may turn out to be diabetes type IV. Think about this for a moment and you must recognize that vitamins, particularly thiamin, are responsible for creating and consuming energy. We are not talking about “being energetic” as for example in running. We are talking about how the body manages to produce and consume the force called energy that enables all function to take place. The easiest way to kill anybody would be to stop the flow of energy.You ask whether the medical community is underestimating the value of thiamin and its colleagues and my answer is a resounding yes. For those who want more information I suggest that you buy the book by Lonsdale and Marrs entitled “Thiamin Deficiency, Dysautonomia and High Calorie Malnutrition”, available on Amazon books

    • Dr. Lonsdale, that put thiamine need in the same level of oxygen need for the cell, right? Interesting, that the anaerobic respiration is part of the aerobic respiration, and apparently it looks like it is also a mechanism of survival of the cell. It is like if the cell doesn’t have enough oxygen or elements necessary to her survival, being thiamine the most important, it shut down do Krebs cycle and produce the minimum ATP.
      I was thinking about the dad of my co-worker. Just wondering if he would have died if he had been supplemented with Thiamine. I believe that cancer is a symptom of a dysfunctional mitochondria. I believe that his diabetes evolved to cancer because of the acid environmental in the cell caused damage to the dna.
      Dr. Lonsdale, have you had the opportunity to watch the TED presentation that I posted the link? I also think that many people may be having chances to get cancer because of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means carbohydrate resistance, and it is what you have been talking about in your books: thiamine deficiency. I don’t know who was the first: the chicken or the egg, however, what we know now is that a way to fix is cutting the sugar, and simple carbohydrates and supplementing with b1, right? And that doesn’t mean to cut fruits and vegetables, like beet and carrots, rights?
      I have so much to say, but lets stop here. Thanks for the attention.

  5. Very interesting article!!! That makes sense!!! The epigenetic says that genes can be turned in and off, and that a woman who has a predisposition for having breast cancer can avoid it by eating lot of broccolis, kale, cauliflower and other vegetables. That shows us importance of eating a nutritious meals. I read a paper about a pharmacist that worked with diabetic patients for years when he found himself with diabetes type 2. Because he was not happy with the treatments offered by the orthodox medicine, he decided to supplement with vitamins that he believe that could help him: thiamine and others vitamins. After a small period of time, his food pain was gone and 2 years he had not developed symptom that is usually seen as a diabetes type 2 symptom.

    • Yes, it is now known that diabetics, both type I and type II, require 100 mg of thiamin hydrochloride a day, since they leak thiamin through the kidneys into urine

      • Dr. Lonsdale, what about the people that are insulin resistant? Do their bodies also leak thiamin through the kidneys into urine? Does the body uses thiamine as a mechanism to get rid of sugar or is thiamine send to the kidney to protect it? Isn’t the role of thiamine in the body being underestimated by the medical community? It may not be only the food that we eat but all the other factors of modern life, such as agro toxics killing our good bugs, wireless houses exposing us to too much radiation, medications, lack of sun, vaccines and stress that on the top is causing all that lack of thiamine. Maybe we all should consider taking the vitamins B1 and a B complex nowadays on the top of eating well.

        • Hi Dr. Lonsdale, I meant to say:.. what about people that are insulin resistant but not diabetic, or at minimum not diabetic yet? I got to know two people who lost one of their parents to cancer. They were both diabetics but their family only got to know they had cancer when they were dying. One was not even on medication and the other died when doing the pet scan. I am just wonder if there is other ways to verify the deficiency of thiamine since it is hard to find a lab that does it the right way.
          There is a very interesting speech from TED, it is worthy watching.

      • Dr. Lonsdale, I have a question regarding the RDA doses. They say that your body need is usually 1.2 mg per day and the WHO recommends 10 mg a day. However, with all the wired environment, all the stress that we are exposed to, how come that it is what we need? They still think that during the winter people that live in North America need 1000 a day of vitamin D a day and that the salt that everyone is avoiding give us the iodine that we need.
        I have your book, but I didn;t located the chapter in which you talk about supplementation. Please inform what is the chapter. Thanks,

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