Vitamin Therapy Paradox: Getting Worse before Getting Better

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Derrick Lonsdale, MD
Does modern medicine accept the idea of vitamin therapy? The answer is a resounding no!  It has only been a little over 100 years since vitamins were synthesized. Of course, as everybody knows, all of these chemical substances were found to exist in natural food. They were very much part of the mystery of evolution. Essential to all animal life, they were there for the picking. Later, it was also found that a number of essential minerals were required. Both the vitamins and minerals need to be present in minute doses, covered under the eponym of recommended daily allowance (RDA). All we had to do was to obey the rules set out by Mother Nature. Our ancestors were classified as “hunter gatherers”.  They hunted animals and gathered the bounty of nature. Yes, we were primitive savages and life was not the ideal by any means, but the food contained all that was necessary for life.

An Evolutionary Imperative to Eat Real Food

To ascertain what kind of food is required by an animal, you simply look at the teeth. We have front teeth called incisors for cutting, the pointed teeth called canine for tearing meat and the back teeth molars, used for grinding. Cows and horses are vegetarian and only have molar grinders. Human beings are omnivores (all foods edible) meaning that we are designed to eat meat, fruit and vegetables. Some of the vitamins are recycled through eating other animals. Others are recycled by being returned to the soil and passing into plants. That is why I have said to many people in answering the question as to what diet they should pursue, eat only nature made food and leave the man made food alone. Well, of course, you know that we didn’t do that.

We now have a food industry and it is quite unbelievable, at least to me, to see some of the stuff that passes as food, based solely on taste and appearance. Sometimes I find a person with these typical symptoms who is very careful with diet and does not practice taste hedonism, but because farming practices have changed in modern times, the produce does not have the same kind of non-caloric nutrient content. It may not be coincidental that such persons are almost invariably intelligent and physically and mentally active. It is reasonable to assume that their nutritional demand exceeds supply and they need non-caloric nutrients.

Sugar and the Vitamin Paradox

Now let me turn to the reason that I used “vitamin paradox” in the title. Anyone that wants to follow my reasoning can look back at previous posts on this website. You will find that there is a significant emphasis on the calamity of sugar ingestion and its association with vitamins, particularly thiamine. I am sure that I will look like a broken record to many people, but here is what happens to your health. Although it is obvious that all the vitamins and essential minerals are required, I am taking the example of thiamine because of its close association with the wide consumption of things called “goodies” or “sweets”.

All simple carbohydrate foods are broken down in the body to glucose. Research has shown that overloading the metabolism with sugar overwhelms the capacity of cellular machinery to burn (oxidize) it by producing a relative deficiency of thiamine, the vital catalyst that ignites (oxidizes) glucose to synthesize cellular energy for function. Recently it has been found that thiamine is required for the oxidation of fats, making the doughnut a perfect example of high calorie malnutrition. This is so important in the brain that I simply cannot overstate it.

High Calorie Malnutrition, Oxygen Deprivation and Brain Function

High calorie malnutrition is exactly equivalent to a mild degree of oxygen deprivation, so it is sometimes referred to as pseudo-hypoxia (false oxygen deprivation). If this is induced by poor diet where the pleasure of taste (hedonism) overrides appropriate nutrition, a curious thing happens! The lower part of the brain that deals automatically with your ability to adapt to a hostile environment becomes much more susceptible in its responsiveness.

I will give you one example: panic attacks, so extraordinarily common in our culture, are simply fight-or-flight reflexes that are triggered by pseudo-hypoxia. Messages go out to the body from this part of the brain, falsely initiated as though you were actually being “chased by a tiger”. Such an affected person will begin to experience the following symptoms as examples: palpitations of the heart, unusual sweating, a sense of anxiety or panic, irritable bowel syndrome, manifestations of allergy, emotional lability (emotions out of control) etc.  He or she will go to the doctor who will do a series of tests. If they are all normal, you will then be told that this is “all in your head” (psychosomatic). On the other hand, the doctor might find evidence for “mitral valve prolapse” (MVP), now known to be an early sign of “wear and tear” damage in the heart and the focus becomes “heart disease”(often used to explain heart palpitations) rather than its original cause, associated with nervous system dysfunction. I have seen MVP disappear in people from correcting their nutrition. It is rare for a patient to be asked about diet and rarer still to question the possibility of a vitamin deficiency.

Vitamin Deficiency: The Walking Sick

This kind of health situation may go one for a long time. The patient has symptoms but is not really a sick person. I refer to people like this as the “walking  sick”. Life continues as usual, but medications have failed to relieve the symptoms, or worse yet have introduced side effects. Over time, the loss of metabolic efficiency gradually leads to damage in cellular machinery (e.g MVP) because the energy need to drive daily function is not being met. Thiamine activates the most important enzyme in energy synthesis and, in the early stages of nutritional deprivation, a thiamine plus multivitamin supplement would quickly abolish the symptoms. If neglected and the marginal malnutrition continues, it will be gradually more difficult to repair the damage.

Vitamin Therapy with Chronic Deficiency: Expect a Decline before Improving

Physicians who practice Alternative Medicine have found that it is possible sometimes to retrieve function at this late stage of development by the use of a course of vitamins given intravenously. They have also learned that the symptoms of the patient actually get worse (paradox) in the initial stages of intravenous treatment but begin to get better following an unpredictable period of worsening. Naturally, the patient concludes that the treatment is bad or that it is causing side effects as in the use of pharmaceuticals. That is why I have christened it paradox, meaning that the unexpected happens.

Over the years of administering intravenous vitamin therapy for all kinds of conditions, irrespective of conventional diagnosis, I quickly learned to inform a patient about paradox before instituting treatment. Surprisingly, this paradoxical response usually heralds a good outcome. I do have some ideas about the cause of paradox, but it is so technical that I cannot attempt it here, perhaps in future posts. Intravenous vitamins are tremendously effective in the improvement of most chronic diseases, an effect that is almost impossible to achieve with the standard treatment of drugs as used in modern medicine today.

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26 Comments

  1. Dr. Lonsdale, if I am feeling a paradox from thiamine hydrochloride does that mean it will eventually help me? Or does that kind never work for a longstanding deficiency? I am 50 and realized I have had a decades long issue with thiamine. I’ve always loved sweets. I was diagnosed with MVP in my 20’s and have had numerous health issues that doctors felt were in my head. Panic attacks, numbness in feet and legs, dizziness, vertigo, shortness of breath, blue toes on and on. I started thiamine hydrochloride and feel even worse so I was wondering if that meant it would help. Thank you for your work.

    1. You have classic beriberi and if you are having a paradoxical reaction from thiamine hydrochloride, it is predictable that it will finally give place to improvement. The length of the paradox is unpredictable but it can last as long as 4 or 5 weeks. The problem is that your undoing is your statement “I’ve always loved sweets”, because that is the cause of your beriberi. This is happening to millions of Americans because so many of them love sweets. It doesn’t matter what kind of thiamine derivative you are using. They all do the same, deliver the vitamin to the cells that need it.

      1. Thank you for your reply, I will continue with the thiamine hydrochloride and supporting nutrients. Your work is making such a difference in peoples lives. I have suffered a long time, for decades. Thank you!

  2. After five years of unexplained illness — weeks-long “episodes” of heart palpitations, dizziness, lightheadedness, unrelenting anxiety and panic attacks that could last for hours, numbness and tingling in my hands and feet, extreme chemical sensitivities, drug resistant high blood pressure, and worst of all, feelings of unreality like I’m on a “bad acid trip.” Numerous trips to the ER and doctor’s offices and many tests continued to show no abnormalities except for subclinical hyperthyroidism from a toxic thyroid nodule, which I have just recently got under control with medication. However, I did find these episodes always corresponded with attempts to go vegan or otherwise high carb diet, and assumed this meant I must have some kind of intestinal bacteria yeast or parasite that fed on carbs and made me crazy. Because of chemical sensitivity, I react negatively to just about every supplement and herb, so I have never been able withstand vitamins after many many attempts, (B-vitamins especially), let alone herbal treatments for intestinal bugs. But at least carb restriction would greatly improve the situation. The one carb I have allowed myself daily is unfortified white rice because I had read it was a “safe starch.” (I avoided fortification because I have high ferritin and didn’t want the iron). Three months ago these episodes became permanent and no amount of carb restriction helped, and now the mental symptoms are so severe I stopped being able to work. By looking up symptoms, I stumbled on your Thiamine Deficiency book and read it and was stunned to see myself described exactly, stunned at how thiamine relates to carb metabolism. I believe it likely I have a pretty severe long-term deficiency by now. I have learned that too much thyroid hormone can induce deficiency, as does all that unfortified white rice apparently, and I am sure my fairly frequent alcohol consumption, no matter how moderate, hasn’t helped. (I believed it helped calm my racy hyperthryoid nervous system and my doctor said it was fine) For the past week I have been attempting to take different versions of thiamine and magnesium (including Lipothiamine cut in quarters), but even these small amounts intensify all my symptoms to where I feel I am literally losing my mind along with all feeling in my fingers. I read Dr. Lonsdale’s comment here about vitamin paradox about how it is important to go low and slow and building up a dose gradually. But I also read how severe thiamine deficiency is dangerous to the brain and can cause irreversible damage from Wernicke’s encephalopthy or even death if one doesn’t get large doses of thiamine as soon as possible. So I have no idea whether I should be pursuing B-1 injections, or if such a large dose would be disastrous to me if only 10 mg of oral thiamine makes me feel so much worse. Is it too late for me? I feel stuck between such a rock and hard place that I am in terrible despair, and would appreciate any advice about what people in my situation can or should do.

    1. Of course, it would always be better to prove thiamine deficiency but your symptoms are so typical. If you read history you will find that white rice, ingested primarily in Eastern cultures, was the major cause of beriberi and it took months of high dose thiamine for successful treatment. I have little doubt that they experienced paradox in many cases. Yes, you are getting severe paradox and your only recourse is to continue until the paradox completes its course. There is no gain without pain. This may last as long as a month or more. It is virtually certain that you have a genetically determined absence of a thiamine transporter or other genetic abnormality. Your best course of action would be to have repeated intravenous injections of water-soluble vitamins with high doses of B complex in the solution. You certainly need to keep up the Lipothiamine that is causing the paradox. I have seen many situations where thiamine hydrochloride did not correct the clinical or laboratory situation but Lipothiamine did.

      1. Thank you for your thoughts, I am grateful. I will absolutely look for a doctor in my area that offers such vitamin IVs, and continue with the oral thiamine, although a little lower and slower! I have also wondered about some genetic abnormality that created some deficiency, as my mother committed suicide after years of mental illness and an inability to walk from unexplained pain, her siblings are both housebound with various neurological ailments, and all three of my adult children are on antidepressants. Wouldn’t it be something if I could help my children with the right vitamin bottle….

        1. Lipothiamine (LPT)
          I think that it should be understood that LPT is really being used as a drug. It is obviously not simple vitamin replacement, even though the active principle delivered to cells is indeed thiamine. Let me try to explain. LPT is thiamine with an attachment called a prosthetic group. When it reaches a cell, the prosthetic group is broken off and without going into the biochemical details, it enables the thiamine, from which it has been detached, to pass into the cell without the necessary transporter required for dietary thiamine. This process has been well studied.The subsequent metabolism of the prosthetic group has also been well studied. It is therefore a means by which a large concentration of the vitamin can be built up in the cell. This is NOT an acceptable concept in modern orthodox medicine and is one cause of rejection. The present general belief is that a vitamin deficiency can only be replaced in the tiny amounts normally required for a healthy person taking a healthy diet and with NO genetic risk factors. To administer pharmacological doses for prolonged deficiency to a sick person with so-called “psychosomatic” symptoms is regarded as a waste of effort. The history of finding the cause of beriberi tells us that huge doses of the vitamin were required for months in order to achieve remission. Indeed, the blood sugar was found to be high in some cases and low in others and made a significant difference to whether the patient responded to thiamine or not.The death rate from this disease was known to be very low but the morbidity (chronic suffering) was known to be prolonged. The action of thiamine is to assist the function of enzymes to which it is bound (cofactor). Although it certainly requires much more research because of its valuable actions, I believe that the enzyme, without its cofactor, gradually deteriorates. The ensuing symptoms,sometimes lasting for years because of lack of recognition by physicians, are usually classified as psychosomatic. Unfortunately many such patients are referred to as “problem patients” by their physicians. When thiamine is at last recognized as being the missing factor, it has to be used in large doses to stimulate the activity of the enzyme that has been missing its assistance. Although this does not explain paradox, it does explain the prolonged need for the administration of LPT

          1. I just have to update that after a rough slow start, thiamine supplementation has finally “kicked in” for me, and now I am up to 50 mg a day of allithiamine and some benfotiame as well (for some reason lipothiamine is still hard for me, maybe I have a problem with the alpha lipoic acid in it I don’t know.)
            But I am feeling more like my normal self every day, sometimes huge improvements one day to the next. I am getting my mind back, almost like a radio station tuning in more and more often, and more energy, and I am so thrilled. I feel like my life has been saved because I had no longer wanted to live in such a state. Thank you so much Dr. Lonsdale, you have done me and so many people a great service by bringing attention to this problem! A thousand thank yous.

  3. Dr. Lonsdale,

    Have just concluded my first full week of the thiamine + magnesium/ potassium/ aspartate supplements. Having read that a ‘healing crisis’ should only last a few days, I’m concerned that every day my areas of concern (feet/legs) are MUCH worse. Not having ingested any thiamine whatsoever for years, would it be logical to assume this ‘paradox’ would last for a longer period of time? Thank you for sharing your knowledge, and blessings to you for a happy and healthy New Year!

  4. Being on high dose B12 supplementation for the last two weeks, I am indeed experiencing what you have coined as ‘the paradox’. I am very interested on your thoughts as to what you believe causes this to occur. Thank you for your time.

    1. This is a complex answer. Of course, I do not know why paradox occurs. However, beriberi is the disease caused by vitamin B1 deficiency. We know from early studies of thiamin as the underlying cause that treatment could indeed result in paradox. For example, a beriberi patient with too little acid in the stomach would develop too much after treatment started, before becoming normal. The ancient Chinese knew that the symptoms helped by treatment with acupuncture could get worse again if the acupuncture continued for too long a period on a given day of treatment. They recognized that the word pictures of Yin and Yang represented two extremes and that the objective in all things, moderation was always the ultimate answer.

      1. I’ve pondered your inciteful response for the last hour, and am heeding a key word you wrote…moderation. Having read a protocol on-line to take megadoses of methylB12 to heal the body, I’ve been taking many times the RDA listed dosage to heal faster, thinking I was just experiencing the ‘paradox’. I think that occurance is inevitable when starting the methylation process after it’s been dormant for many years, but 90,000 units per day is probably way too excessive (understatement), and I’m probably feeling sicker than I need to be. I can’t begin to imagine how ‘off’ my yin and yang are due to this extreme daily sublingual dosage. Moderation… thank you.

        1. How did you arrive at the conclusion that you “required” methyl B12 when you read someone’s “protocol”? It makes no sense.

          1. Suffering from unexplained foot numbness, my journey for an explanation eventually took me to a naturopathic doctor. In doing bloodwork, he said my B12 levels were unacceptably low – that the AMA criteria was faulty and the parameters should be lowered immediately. Consequently, he started me on ‘methyl’ B12 supplementation (as opposed to the other types available), saying that it is the only one that readily crosses the blood/brain barrier, and is the only one that could address my numbness issue. He prompted me to do further research to educate myself about the vitamin, which is what led me to the need to take higher doses to regain the feeling in my feet. Being that he had previously assured me that any excess B12 I ingested wasn’t detrimental to my body, that anything extra would simply be excreted through my urine, I had zero concerns until I read your article about the need for ‘moderation’. Sorry, I neglected to mention that he has had me on very high doses as well, each sublingual pill being 16,667%DV (looking at the bottle) and I was instructed to take 5 of those pills throughout the day. So beginning this new ‘protocol’ (as he has referred to them) didn’t seem remotely abnormal or out of the ordinary to me. I hope I’ve answered your question properly. Thank you for your time, Dr. Lonsdale.

            1. Foot numbness is much more likely to be an energy deficit and I would expect it to respond to big doses of thiamin. You can try ordinary thiamin that you can get from the health food store and I would suggest 100 to 200 mg a day, together with 300 mg of a magnesium salt

              1. Thiamin…how wonderful! Tablets I presume? I want to make sure I follow your recommendations precisely. And when you say ‘together’ with magnesium salt, am I looking for a supplement that contains both the MS and the thiamin? And lastly, do you suggest I consume these supplements on an empty stomach or with food? Thank you SO much for taking the time with me. Your knowledge/expertise on this matter has been phenomenal!

                1. To say I’m in stunned disbelief would be an understatement. Out of curiosity I looked up ‘thiamine deficiency’ on the internet…and I have EVERY one of the listed symptoms, leg muscle weakness, lower leg swelling – right down to something I was never able to accurately describe…it feels like I’m wearing a sock when I’m not! I am flabbergasted that no physician ever considered this as a possibility before. Looking at which foods contain thiamine, I will sadly admit that I eat none of them. Dr. Lonsdale, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!!! I will begin to take the supplements this evening – with sincere hopes that it’s not too late to address these issues. Thank you, again!!!

                  1. Thank you, again. As I’m prohibited from taking folic acid (homozygous MTHFR 1298c), I am able to take everything except the multi-vitamin which generally contains this. And I’ll have to special order the magnesium compound as that is not an item (so I’m told) traditionally stocked.

                    I am so looking forward to getting back with you in the future with a positive update. Happy Holidays!!!

                    1. Incidentally, have you authored a book on this subject? I’d rather refer to an expert on this subject, than arbitrary writings on the Internet.

                    2. Sincerest apologies for my incredible ignorance. I had no idea that I’ve been speaking with a world renowned physician this entire time. I am beyond honored that you took the time to address my concerns, providing information that none of my other MANY doctors have been intuitive enough to discern might be the issue for my years of numb extremities. With deepest respect, Dr. Lonsdale – thank you!

  5. Dear Dr. Lonsdale!

    I’ve been eating a paleo diet the last 2 years and also experienced a lot of stress and was mentally as well as physically very active. I was probably undereating and found out the there weren’t hardly any sources of b1 in my diet. I’ve been experiencing a lot of symptoms which could be related to thiamine deficiency (although some of these symptoms I already had before this time). I was already checked by a neurologist, they also did an MRI, checked B1 in whole blood and didn’t find anything.
    They said to me that I don’t have to worry about it being Wernicke’s Encephalopathy, so I really hope that’s true (therefore I didn’t get Thiamin i.v.)!
    Nevertheless I am really concerned and not really sure what I should do about it, do you have any suggestions? I don’t think that I can get thiamine i.v. in my place and because I live in Europe I also can’t find allithiamine.
    Do you think it would be okay to take high dose benfotiamine or Thiamin HCL to reverse my symptoms? Because I think with high dose oral Thiamine HCL one could also achieve pretty high plasma levels (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3293077/), (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3293077/figure/F2/)?
    Would this be sufficient to penetrate the blood brain barrier enough if at all?
    My symptoms are pain in the calves, slight gait unsteadiness and problems with balance with closed eyes, brain fog, slow thinking, slight drowsiness, poor emotion control, poor concentration, fatigue etc…
    Do you think if it’s due to b1 deficiency that my symptoms are reversible?
    Would really appreciate a response and thank you a lot in advance!

    with best regards

    Sem

  6. Dr. Lonsdale,
    Any suggestions for supplementation for mitochondrial damage or neuropathy caused by fluoroquinolones. Example b1, b6, b12 or coq10.

    1. All of them. All non caloric nutrients work as a collective team. Suggest Fursultiamine + magnesium + multivitamin

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