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Thiamin, Vitamins and Derrick Lonsdale

I’m reading Why I Left Orthodox Medicine: Healing for the 21st Century (1994) by Derrick Lonsdale (you may be able to legally get a free ebook here). I’ve finished chapter 5. So far I think it’s really good and think that the author is a reasonable thinker. I’m impressed.

Lonsdale had high quality, mainstream medical training and work experience. He became disliked by most of his colleagues after he had some experiences treating patients, and did research in the library, which led him to believe nutrition (primarily vitamins and minerals) could improve many medical problems. Many of his own patients recovered after he gave them nutrients.

The most important tool he used is thiamin (vitamin B1, also spelled “thiamine”). It’s crucial to energy metabolism, which is in turn crucial to many things in the body. Thiamin is also important for the automatic functions of the brain (like controlling heart rate). Thiamin may help with fatigue, diabetes, heart issues, dysautonomia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Megadoses of vitamins (much more than the typical amount in a healthy diet) are often important for recovery and are sometimes helpful in the long term.

Many people, due to genetics and sometimes other factors, need more than the typical amount of some vitamins, which can lead to deficiencies. Diet can also lead to deficiencies.

Many vitamins and minerals are essential, which means basically that if you eat none of them for too long you will definitely die. I think our maximum storage capacity for B vitamins tends to be less than we’d need for a month, while some other fat-soluble vitamins may be stored in larger amounts.

The US government has recommendations on how much to eat of different vitamins and minerals. These are called RDAs. The RDA for thiamin was set too low. Most Americans would get less than the low RDA of thiamin without fortification. Fortification is adding vitamins and minerals to foods. Fortification varies by country, but in America vitamins B1, B2 and B3 are added to flour while vitamins A and D are added to milk. Even with the thiamin added to flour, many Americans only eat a little more than the low RDA of thiamin. The result is that many Americans probably have mild thiamin deficiency, which may be causing a large number of health problems nationwide.

Also, RDA’s are designed to be enough for 97-98% of healthy adults. That’s the goal. If they succeed at that goal, then a few percent of people following the government guidelines will be harmed – and possibly never figure out the cause of their troubles. And there are RDAs for 14 vitamins and 15 minerals. If one’s need for each nutrient were independent, then approximately half of people eating the RDA amounts would be deficient in at least one nutrient. I don’t think nutrient needs are independent, but I don’t know how correlated they are. So somewhere between 2% and 50% of people would be harmed by RDAs, by design, if they were set correctly and followed exactly. It’s hard to say how many people need more than the RDA of at least one nutrient (assuming unrealistically that all RDAs were set correctly), but maybe 10% is a reasonable very rough estimate.

And nutrient needs vary by your circumstances. They aren’t just innate facts about a person that are affected by only a few factors like genetic mutations, age, gender and pregnancy. Your thiamin needs increase when you eat more carbs (carbohydrates) because thiamin is used for processing carbs into energy. Consuming alcohol, coffee or tea increases your thiamin needs. You also need more thiamin when your metabolism runs faster, which is part of how our bodies react to many stressors including exercise, mild illnesses and vaccinations.

Mainstream doctors have missed this problem because they look for thiamin deficiency in terms of old descriptions of beriberi, from poor, malnourished people, but it presents differently and less blatantly in well-fed Americans. Beriberi is one of the three most well known or important nutrient deficiency diseases, along with scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) and pellagra (niacin (vitamin B3) deficiency). You may be most familiar with scurvy, so you can think of beriberi as somewhat similar but with a different vitamin. It too was discovered partly in the context of sailors with limited diets, as well as in the context of Japanese people switching from brown to white rice as they became more wealthy (the brown rice hull contains B vitamins).

Note: Some of what I’m saying is partially based on other sources, like Hiding in Plain Sight: Modern Thiamine Deficiency (academic paper by Marrs and Lonsdale) and Beriberi: The Great Imitator (article for lay people, by Lonsdale).

Our body uses a lot of chemical reactions which require a lot of pretty precise factors for them to work correctly. Lonsdale says medicine has neglected our biochemistry to focus on infections (e.g. bacteria, viruses, fungi) and structural defects. He says medicine incorrectly has a “kill the enemy” mindset with little consideration of helping support the body to heal itself.

Lonsdale also discusses how the medical field is a social hierarchy with few people actually trying to discover new things, and the innovators are often resisted and punished. If Lonsdale is right, then most doctors are follower-type people who mostly just do customary/mainstream treatments, and most of the medical leaders and researchers (the people that most doctors are following the lead of) are irrational.

Why I Left Orthodox Medicine: Healing for the 21st Century is somewhat autobiographical and gives many examples of how resistant other doctors were to using vitamins and minerals. They would consider vitamins to be quackery, and refuse to even try it, even though the vitamins were cheap and harmless. While Lonsdale cured many people with vitamins, his peers often refused to even try vitamins on patients with similar conditions, despite the low cost and low risk. And the people in authority broadly weren’t willing to debate the matter and actually consider what Lonsdale was saying; they were dismissive.

I guess a lot of people reading this should consider taking a B-complex vitamin supplement (a multivitamin containing all eight B vitamins) and megadose thiamin. (If you take a regular multivitamin, it already contains the B vitamins, so a B complex isn’t needed. Regular multivitamins have some downsides but they are OK, easy and cheap.) I know some more about this but I don’t actually want to give out detailed diet and nutrition advice, so do your own research. Here’s one additional research lead: High-Dose Thiamine (HDT) Therapy For Parkinson's Disease.

Disclaimer: I’m a philosopher, not a medical professional, and this is not medical advice. I take absolutely no responsibility for your health outcomes. Many factual statements in this post are based on Lonsdale’s claims without additional fact checking by me.

I’d be interested in criticism, counter-arguments and fact checking related to Lonsdale or thiamin. If these ideas are incorrect, I’d like to know. You can post on my forum or email me.

Elliot Temple on May 23, 2023


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