pregnancy heart complications thiamine

Heart Problems, Pregnancy, and Nutrient Deficiency

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In the Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2018, Your Health, written by Sumathi Reddy, recorded the case of a 34-year-old pregnant woman who went to the hospital with shortness of breath and dizziness. Doctors decided that they were “pregnancy-related symptoms and nothing to be overly concerned about”. The column goes on to say that eight weeks after her daughter was born she experienced terrible stomach pains, orthopnea (severe breathing difficulty when lying down) and chest pains. At the emergency room, she was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy, noted  as “a type of heart failure related to pregnancy”. Reddy continues: “the rates of heart-related problems in women before and after childbirth have increased in the US., a problem that some experts think may be contributing to a rise in the country’s maternal mortality rate. It has been reported that the number of women having heart attacks before, during and after deliveries increased by 25% from 2002 through 2013. Around 4.5% of women who had heart attacks died”.

This is truly an appalling statistic, begging for an explanation as soon as possible. I believe that such an explanation is possible. With the necessary clinical knowledge, thiamine deficient beriberi would certainly enter into the potential diagnosis. The combination of “shortness of  breath and dizziness”  as an initial guide to its consideration, together with the later onset of “terrible stomach and chest pain” associated with heart failure 8 weeks after parturition in the case of that 34-year old pregnant woman, should have given  rise to its consideration. The trouble with this description is that it is not pathognomonic (uniquely indicative) of beriberi, a diagnosis that the medical profession refuses to recognize as a possibility in America.

What needs to be understood is that pregnancy is an enormous metabolic stress. The mother has to feed herself and her offspring, requiring a vast amount of cellular energy, not only to meet her own maintenance, but to support the rapid growth of her fetus. The enormous variety of complications in pregnancy can only be explained by a failure to produce sufficient energy to meet the metabolic demand. The diet in America, together with possible and undiagnosed genetic risk, does not always meet that goal. A common problem is known as hyperemesis gravidarum (severe pregnancy vomiting), a thiamine deficiency complication that can result in the much more serious thiamine deficiency brain disease known as Wernicke encephalopathy. So let us look at the evidence to support thiamine deficiency as a cause of pregnancy complications..

Thiamine Treatment of Severe Pregnancy Toxemia

In 2013 I received a letter from a retired American specialist in OB/GYN, John B. Irwin M.D., together with a book that he had written with the intriguing title “The Natural Way to a Trouble-Free Pregnancy” with subtitle “The Toxemia/Thiamine Connection“. He was desperate in trying to locate a physician who could subject his work to further research. His many attempts had fallen on deaf ears. He hoped that I could promulgate his work. In retirement he had hired himself out to the government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to try to improve upon their system of obstetrical care.  He had attended an introductory meeting with a group of island doctors who were all American board-certified in their specialties. They introduced him to a woman who, at 36 weeks of gestation was essentially moribund with severe preeclampsia (advanced pregnancy toxemia), severe gestational cardiomyopathy (pregnancy heart failure), and with some premature separation of the placenta. Recognizing that the patient had the thiamine deficiency disease beriberi and in spite of the massive skepticism of the assembled doctors, he told them that he was going to make her well with mega-thiamine. He treated her with 100 mg of thiamine daily, reporting that she was physiologically well in six days. She delivered a 3 lbs. 12 oz. infant with a normal Apgar score

Yes, I know how many will react to this. They will say that “this patient was on a tropical island where beriberi was much more likely. This could not happen in America where the science of nutrition is so well known and where all the foods are enriched with vitamins”.

Thiamine Deficiency and Pregnancy Complications

Because of this case, Dr. Irwin started the clinic patients on prophylactic thiamine, beginning in the second trimester. Over a period of 25 years, during his retirement, he had found that it prevented the development of every type of toxemia completely, including eclampsia, preeclampsia, intra-uterine growth retardation, premature delivery, fetal death, premature rupture of membranes, placenta previa and gestational diabetes. In short, he had found that this simple non-toxic administration of megadose thiamine had virtually abolished all the common complications of pregnancy. It is important to recognize that he had spent his professional lifetime before retirement in Connecticut, attempting to bring healthy babies into the world. He was conversant with all the complications of pregnancy, for which he had previously known the absence of adequate treatment. He wondered whether the island doctors had failed to recognize beriberi, or whether toxemias of pregnancy were merely a manifestation of thiamine deficiency.

In his book, Dr. Irwin reports that

“the daily 100 mg thiamine tablet has been given to over 1000 unselected prenatals so far, starting in the second and third trimesters. More than 450 cases were conducted in Saipan of the Mariana Islands, over 600 in Waterbury Connecticut after his return from Saipan and 15 selected high risk cases with a collaborator in Adelaide, Australia. There have been no adverse reactions to thiamine. The expected and predictable number of toxemia patients in this group would be well over 150, but the actual occurrence was zero. This was an almost unbelievably favorable response. Modern science has not been able to do what thiamine has done for my patients. I have treated pregnancy-induced heart failure patients who were very close to heart failure death. They returned to normal, and continued their pregnancies to a normal conclusion at term. Treated patients did not deliver prematurely”.

Why Megadose Thiamine?

There is a lot more to this and I can only suggest that anybody wishing to be pregnant should obtain this book. It is, of course, mandatory for you to undertake this with the permission and care of your OB/GYN physician. However, do not expect that the physician will automatically accept the idea. You may have to show him/her the book. As I have said many times in posts on this website, the emerging truth concerning the application of vitamins in the treatment of disease and the preservation of health has not yet reached the collective psyche of the medical profession. It has been hard won by the few pioneers that have begun to practice what is now called Alternative Integrative Medicine.

It is quite obvious that you might ask the question, why, if this is so important in the lives and well-being of millions, it is not an acceptable practice in modern medicine by the majority of physicians? We all have known for many years that thiamine is acquired from the diet.  The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is only 1 to 1.5 mg. This minute dose acts as what is called a cofactor to many enzymes essential to energy production. Without sufficient cofactor, the enzymes do not function properly and their action gradually deteriorates. Thus, vitamin deficiency has long been regarded as a situation that only requires simple replacement of the RDA dose.

Unfortunately, what has not sufficiently been realized is that a megadose of the cofactor is required to resuscitate the enzymes that have been damaged by prolonged use of an overload of empty calories (high calorie malnutrition). Pregnancy requires energy for the development of the fetus as well as the health of the mother so the demand is greatly increased. Cells will use what is needed of the megadose for the resuscitation to take place and will discard the excess in urine. The beauty of this new way of thinking about treatment of disease is that it is non-toxic and harmless. We even know now that some of the diseases, previously thought to be entirely genetic in origin, respond to megadoses of vitamins. This has opened up a brand-new science called epigenetics that studies the effect of lifestyle and nutrition on genes. Genes are no longer considered to be solely in charge of our health destiny. We each have a responsibility towards the preservation of the blueprint (inheritance) by what we eat and our lifestyles.

Heart Problems and Insufficient Maternal Thiamine

In our book entitled “Thiamine Deficiency Disease, Dysautonomia and High Calorie Malnutrition” Dr. Marrs and I demonstrated that thiamine deficiency is widespread in America, causing diverse symptomology responsible for a host of puzzling diseases. We provided evidence that different forms of physical and mental stress result in an increased energy demand in the part of the brain that deals with environmental adaptation. It is suggested here that the stress of pregnancy, superimposed on marginal high calorie malnutrition, is responsible for the increase in heart failure. It is well known that the heart and brain have the highest metabolic rate, making these organs more susceptible to the effects of limited energy synthesis.

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Image by Manuel Alejandro Leon from Pixabay.

This article was published originally on August 21, 2018

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. I would like to read Dr. Irwin’s book, but it seems to be out of print. Does anyone know if there a PDF of it somewhere that I could download? Thanks!

  2. I am sure that you are quite right. We have become aware that genetic problems in regard to thiamine metabolism are really quite common. We now know that both types of diabetes require supplementary thiamine because of the nature of the disease. I think that it is very intelligent of you to have mastered the situation over the years. Now that we have the science of epigenetics, this approach to disease should begin to become more common. If only some of the researchers would turn to it.

  3. Dr. Lonsdale,

    Thank you for continuing to share your knowledge and for your dedication helping others. I have learned much from your articles and book.

    Having learned that I had a thiamine deficiency 3 years ago, I know recognize that it is chronic and likely genetic. I strongly believe that I was deficient in thiamine when I was pregnant with my daughter, who arrived towards the end of my 35th week. She developed jaundice and she didn’t have a suckling reflex for the first 3 weeks. I had gestational diabetes, too. That was a surprise, given that I was healthy weight and I ate a very healthful diet (very little sugar and only complex carbs).

    I believe my thiamine deficiency continued, waxing and waning, through the 12 years since. Based on my own odd childhood symptoms, I’m sure I had it as a child, too. I had I feel very fortunate to have come through the pregnancy with minor issues. Given the thiamine issues and a family history of CVD, I see a cardiologist annually, although, he doesn’t think thiamine deficiency is a concern. I know better.

    • I would like to comment further because this post is important. Lisa, please tell us your childhood symptoms that you suspect were related to thiamine deficiency. During the pregnancy, the premature delivery, the development of jaundice, particularly the failure of the infant sucking reflex and gestational diabetes were all related to thiamine deficiency during the pregnancy. For somebody like this, “very little sugar” may be too much. The “waxing and waning” of symptoms over 12 years is typical of the well-known morbidity described in beriberi.It is exactly this that creates a clinical situation that is usually and customarily referred to as psychosomatic. In the modern world, the laboratory tests are designed to make a diagnosis of a specific disease. For example, jaundice of the newborn would be explained as having a different cause than failure of the sucking reflex in the infant, whereas they both have a cause in common, thiamine deficiency. Because the laboratory tests are either normal or nonspecifically abnormal, the symptoms are frequently written off as psychosomatic. This is because the diagnosis of “real disease” is supposedly proven by the laboratory tests. Thiamine deficiency, as indeed in this case, is rejected as a stupid idea. The medical profession declares that “Vitamin deficiency disease simply does not occur”.

      • I believe I was thiamine deficient during pregnancy and post partum have been totally disabled by (now Understood as lifelong) ehlers-Danlos syndrome, POTS, IBD, ADHD, MCAS Raynauds etc that I now indentify as Thiamine Deficiency. THANK YOU.

        Whilst I was pregnant I had very low blood pressure and tachycardia and my daughter had very erratic movements. I was told it was “normal” for pregnancy. I knew something was wrong.

        I have almost eradicated symptoms of POTS and pelvic organ prolapse, breathing issues, tachycardia and fatigue by supplementing with bicarbonate to increase co2/oxygenation. I have just ordered a thiamine supplement of the recommended kind and will start supplementation soon.

        What do I do for my daughter who is now 14 months old and most definitely thiamine deficient?

        Both me and her father have “EDS” and he has bad Kyphoscoliosis that developed throughout childhood. I have a degree of scoliosis also.

        I don’t want her to suffer as I have with debilitating symptoms from childhood.

        Thank you SO much for your work. I can not believe it is mostly unseen and unrecognised by the medical Community. What an incredible gift.

        Thank you!

        • Hi Natalie! I know this is two years later, but if you are still looking for something for your child, you could try Authia cream (cardiovascular research). It is a topical form of TTFD (thiamine).

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