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Orthomolecular Medicine for Everyone

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Explains the basics of orthomolecular medicine, plus megavitamin therapy for arthritis, cancer, behavioral problems, and more.

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1. What Is Orthomolecular Medicine?

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The basis for health is good nutrition. When malnutrition or starvation is present, it is impossible to respond effectively to any medical treatment. Orthomolecular, the word coined by Linus Pauling in 1968, describes a method that uses nutrients and normal (“ortho”) constituents of the body in optimum amounts as the main treatment.1 Orthomolecular physicians use all modern treatments, including drugs, surgery, and physical and psychological methods, when these are appropriate. For example, when antidepressants or tranquilizers are needed, they are used in conjunction with the nutrients and nutrition. The drugs are used to gain rapid control over undesirable or disabling symptoms and are slowly withdrawn once the patient begins to respond to orthomolecular treatment. Surgeons using nutrition have found that their patients respond more quickly after surgery and suffer fewer undesirable reactions. Since all people are healthier when they eat food only (avoiding junk and artifact), they can resist disease and injury more effectively when they are healthier due to optimum nutrition.

 

2. The Use of Food Supplements

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Orthomolecular medicine applies the same scientific principles to the use of nutrients as are applied to the use of drugs. It is a hallowed principle of orthodox medicine that only optimum doses of drugs can be used, since too little will be ineffective and too much will be dangerous. Orthodox medicine has not applied this scientific rule to nutrition and to the use of nutrient supplements. It has been lulled by the belief that only very small amounts of nutrients are needed and there is no reason to determine optimum doses. This aging hypothesis has been proven wrong for many years, by many physicians, in thousands of reports. Orthomolecular medicine is a logical extension of the findings that nutrient accessory factors, such as vitamins and minerals, are essential. Food must contain not only carbohydrates, protein, and fat but also these accessory factors. It then follows that when foods are deficient in some of these nutrients, they cannot maintain health.

The medical profession no longer argues against the addition of small amounts of these accessory nutrients to food, such as adding vitamins to white flour, in order to prevent deficiency diseases like beriberi and pellagra. But those are low doses, for the prevention of deficiency diseases only. Orthomolecular medicine is the next logical step—it recognizes that since we are all different, we need varying amounts of these essential nutrients, and even fortified foods will be insufficient for some. These individuals must be given supplements as tablets or pills if they are to remain free of disease or cured of disease. We find it hard, as logical scientists, to believe that these simple concepts can be rejected any longer by the establishment. Orthomolecular nutrition is, in our view, merely good practical medicine that uses the same standard of care as the medical profession thinks it is using for drugs.

 

3. Niacin (Vitamin B3)

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Most vitamins were recognized biologically and nutritionally before their chemical structure was determined. In chemistry, compounds are named logically once the structure is finally established. When the first vitamin was purified, it was called vitamin B1 (then later, thiamine). The second one was called vitamin B2 (riboflavin). This was followed by the antipellagra vitamin, B3, later recognized to be nicotinic acid (niacin) and nicotinamide (niacinamide).

Nicotinic acid had been synthesized many years earlier but had remained merely one of a large number of chemicals of no biological interest. Once it was found to be vitamin B3, nicotinic acid was renamed niacin, and nicotinamide was renamed niacinamide for medical use. “Nicotinic acid” was too similar to “nicotine,” an association that suggested the detrimental effects of nicotine and frightened a few away from the vitamin. Both niacinamide and niacin are components of the nucleotide cycle, which ensures the continual production of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). This is the active anti-pellagra factor, a component of the respiratory enzyme system. The designation vitamin B3 was revived by Bill W. (Bill Wilson), a cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, when he distributed his first Alcoholics Anonymous report to physicians, which was titled “The Vitamin B3 Therapy.” The term is, in fact, very useful, as it includes both niacin and niacinamide.

 

4. Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

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The six-carbon vitamin C molecule (ascorbic acid, C6H8O6) probably was present in the primordial soup in which life developed on Earth, along with vitamin B3 (niacin) and perhaps other vitamins. Smaller than the simplest sugar, vitamin C preceded life by a long time, so it would be surprising if it were dangerous, for life developed and accommodated to molecules already present in the fluid. About 450 million years ago, aquatic vertebrates developed and flourished for about 100 million years, then land animals (reptiles, birds, and mammals) evolved. Fish and amphibians made ascorbic acid in their kidneys; birds are in transition from earlier forms, which used their kidneys, to later forms, which used both kidney and liver, and finally to more recent forms which use only the liver, as do most mammals.

But about 25 million years ago, our ancestors lost the ability to make ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid resembles glucose in structure, but it is much more reactive chemically. When animals make ascorbic acid, they start from glucose. This series of reactions requires the enzyme gulonolactone oxidase, and humans and a few other species of animals lack this enzyme and so cannot make ascorbic acid. The gene that controlled its formation vanished.

 

5. Vitamin E

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In 1922, vitamin E was discovered by Herbert M. Evans and K. S. Bishop. Vitamin E was first recognized as the substance in lettuce that prevented fetal resorption in animals fed a rancid lard diet. Evans called it tocopherol, from the Greek tocos meaning “childbirth” and phero meaning “to bring forth.” This early identification of vitamin E with childbirth, and later with virility, has served to marginalize the properties of a very important vitamin. Early in its history, these claims were made, and since then nearly every critic of megadoses of vitamin E refers to this to discredit it. Vitamin E’s antioxidant properties were known even earlier but have been ignored until recently.

In 1936, Evans’s team had isolated alpha-tocopherol from wheat germ oil, and vitamin E was beginning to be widely appreciated and the consequences of deficiency better known. The January 1936 issue of Health Culture Magazine stated, “The fertility food factor [is] now called vitamin E. Excepting for the abundance of that vitamin in whole grains, there could not have been any perpetuation of the human race. Its absence from the diet makes for irreparable sterility occasioned by a complete degeneration of the germinal cells of the male generative glands. The expectant mother requires vitamin E to insure the carriage of her charge to a complete and natural term. It is more difficult to insure a liberal vitamin E supply in the daily average diet than to insure an adequate supply of any other known vitamin.”1

 

6. The Other B Vitamins and Vitamin A

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Vitamin A, as carotene or fish oil, gives you healthy mucus membranes, a strong immune system, and helps prevent cancer. Vitamin A is necessary to maintain the integrity of body surfaces and a deficiency may decrease mucus secretion and increase susceptibility to colds. Supplementing may help lessen the length and severity of colds. Vitamin A is essential for normal vision. It forms the visual pigments rhodopsin and iodopsin. It is also essential for epithelial tissue. It may be thought of as a surface membrane vitamin, necessary for the health of the skin and its appendages, mouth, respiratory membranes, gastrointestinal tract, and genitourinary tract.

Beta-carotene and synthetic vitamin A analogues are also showing a lot of promise as anticarcinogens. Populations with low vitamin A blood levels are more prone to develop cancer.1 These compounds have inhibited tumor induction, inhibited the promotion phase, and caused some tumors to regress. Some of the synthetic retinoids are most potent in prevention and treatment.

 

7. Vitamin D

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Vitamin D was first isolated from tuna fish oil in 1936 and synthesized in 1952. It is a prohormone sterol that the body manufactures, given sunlight, from 7-dehydrocholesterol. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the form we and other animals make, and what is found in fish liver oil. Oddly enough, fish cannot synthesize vitamin D. They get theirs early in the food chain from planktonic algae. Big fish eat little fish, and we eat them. Vitamin D2 is made from ergosterol, not cholesterol, and consequently is called ergocalciferol. This is the form that is found in plants, and that is also made by ultraviolet irradiation of ergosterol; it is usually added to milk and found in most American supplements. Vitamin D3 is more commonly used as a supplement in Europe.1 Although D2 and D3 differ by a single carbon atom, there is evidence that D3 is more efficiently utilized in animals and humans.2

There are two commercial sources of natural vitamin D3: fish liver oil and an oil extracted from wool. If a label lists “vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol),” then it is from wool oil. This is considered a vegetarian source (the animal is just sheared), but not vegan. Fish liver oil will be listed in parentheses if it is the source. Animals can obtain vitamin D from licking their fur, and in humans, rickets can be successfully treated by rubbing cod liver oil into the skin.

 

8. Other Important Nutrients

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Inositol is often considered an unofficial member of the B vitamin family. It is a benzene ring compound with a hydrogen and a hydroxyl ion on each carbon. Myoinositol is the active form of nine known isomers and is the form sometimes called vitamin B8. Inositol phosphatide has one or more phosphate groups on each carbon. If all six carbon groups are united with phosphate, the compound is known as phytic acid or inositol hexaphosphate (IP6). Germinating seeds release phosphate from phytic acid, which is present in grains, legumes, and other foods. Fermentation by yeast releases phosphates and metals bound to phytic acid, which is why unleavened bread is more apt to cause zinc, calcium, and magnesium deficiency problems.

IP6 is an antioxidant found in nearly all tissues, being in greatest concentration in the brain and heart. It appears to reduce serum cholesterol and triglycerides, and also helps inhibit tumor growth. Therefore, IP6 promises to be important in the treatment of hyperlipidemia and also cancer.1 Inositol lowers serum lipids and cholesterol if given in large doses—3,000 milligrams (mg) per day.2 Inositol may even help protect against junk-food diets: rats fed a lot of sugar, along with inositol, did not show expected increases in liver fat, cholesterol, and serum triglycerides.3

 

9. Minerals

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There is a wide variety of minerals present in the body. It would be surprising if there were not, since life originated in the seas, which contain almost all the minerals. It would require too much of the cell’s energy to keep its interior free of minerals, while it is energy-conserving to incorporate minerals into enzyme reactions that could coordinate with the protein molecules. Minerals present in the greatest amounts in the primitive seas would most likely have been used, while very rare elements would play a minor role. Theoretically, every mineral element could have been used, with each having an optimum range, playing the role life had shaped for it.

When the optimum range is very close to zero, these elements are needed in trace amounts. When the optimum range is greater, milligram and gram amounts are needed. The optimum is determined by the ease with which these elements can be eliminated and by the presence of mechanisms developed to deal with them. For example, copper is required in doses of 2 milligrams (mg) per day; less than this will cause a deficiency, and much more will cause copper toxicity. Zinc is required in doses of 15 mg per day; less will result in a deficiency, but as zinc is water-soluble and easily excreted, the body can tolerate fairly large amounts. A man needs 10 mg of iron a day. Giving 20 mg a day for many years may cause a problem for a man, but a woman needs 20 mg a day as she loses iron with her menstrual periods.

 

10. Gastrointestinal Disorders

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The gastrointestinal (GI) tract developed from a single tube, which has become specialized in structure and function. Its function is to admit food, prepare it for digestion, digest it, extract the essential nutrients, and pass the wastes from the body. The GI tract begins at the mouth, the grinding end, then passes the food into the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and out through the anus. The whole GI tract is one organ and should be treated clinically as such. It is illogical to consider that the stomach can be diseased while the rest of the tract is healthy. When one portion is diseased, one must assume the whole system is diseased, until it has been shown that the disease is, in fact, localized in one section. The health of the mouth (gums, teeth, and tongue) gives one a good idea of the health of the rest of the GI tract. Dentists probably know more about the health of a person’s GI tract than do those patients’ doctors.

The GI tract has a number of accessory glands either inside or outside the GI wall. These include the liver, which secretes bile into the intestine; the pancreas, which secretes pancreatic enzymes into the intestine; the secretory cells in the intestinal wall; the salivary glands; and the stomach, which secretes hydrochloric acid and pepsin.

 

11. Cardiovascular Disease

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The function of the circulatory system, including the heart, is to keep the blood flowing to all parts of the body, to withstand the stresses of minor pulsations and movements, and to repair itself when damaged. It allows nutrients and waste products to traverse its walls. It must grow with tissues and regress as tissues regress. The heart is a specialized section of the circulatory system. The vascular system has a set of internal and external controls to maintain the correct blood pressure, whether we are sleeping or sprinting. When certain areas of the body require more blood, this is provided. In normal brains, frontal lobes receive more blood when a person is awake, less when that person is sleeping. In schizophrenics, this normal pattern is disturbed; their frontal lobes have relatively less blood flow and this flow does not increase when they are awake.

Failure in the circulatory system occurs when vessel (arteries and veins) walls become too fragile or too rigid, or when homeostatic controls fail. Hypertension may develop. The blood itself must maintain the correct viscosity or liquidity and be able to seal off bleeding vessels and maintain the correct proportion of cells of various types to fluid. A discussion of the vascular system should include reference to all these aspects—vessel walls, blood pressure control, and the blood—but here we will deal only with those aspects where orthomolecular medicine promises to make a contribution.

 

12. Arthritis

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The joints of our bodies are particularly susceptible to mechanical wear and tear. The ends of the long bones must rub each other without destroying themselves and must bear the weight of the body. The joints are surrounded by tough connective tissues, ligaments, and muscles, which bind the bones together in a tough but flexible unit permitting movement, often against great force. When any of the tissues in and around the joints fail, arthritis is said to be present. The pathology may affect any or all of the tissues, resulting in excessive wear, undesirable deposits, swelling, redness, pain, restriction of movement, and eventually permanent fusion or immobility and deformity.

Arthritis affects a large proportion of the population, many lightly, many with recurrent attacks, and some so severely that they are left crippled. But in spite of its frequency, the causes and treatment are only dimly comprehended. Orthodox medicine attributes arthritis to a number of causes, including infections (both acute and chronic), trauma, and immunological factors; hormones have been implicated. The era of “wonder drugs” was introduced in 1950, when cortisone and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) became available and dramatically “cured” severe cases of arthritis. But the wave of enthusiasm was soon replaced by doubt and pessimism, as it was found that not only were the cures remarkably ephemeral, but also the side effects were remarkably hazardous.

 

13. Cancer

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While searching for the source of the mauve factor in the urine of schizophrenic patients, I (A. H.) was astonished by a patient’s unexpected recovery from lung cancer. The mauve factor is probably a marker for oxidative stress. But in 1960, this factor was found in the urine of the majority of schizophrenic patients and in a minority of other groups who were not schizophrenic. In testing nonpsychiatric patients, it was found that a very small proportion of normal subjects had this factor and that a larger number of very sick patients, such as those with terminal cancer, had more.

One of these patients, who was over seventy and dying from lung cancer, was given a cobalt bomb palliative treatment. He became psychotic and was admitted to our psychiatric ward. He excreted large amounts of the mauve factor. As it had been found previously that patients who excreted this factor responded well to niacin, he was started on niacin and vitamin C. Three days later, he was mentally normal. In 1960, large-dose tablets of these vitamins were not available and they were specially made up for this study. In order to keep him mentally normal until he died from his cancer, he was maintained on 3,000 milligrams (3 g) a day for each vitamin. He had been given one month to live, but to everyone’s surprise he lived thirty months. After one year on the vitamin program, an x-ray showed that the cancer had vanished.

 

14. The Aging Brain

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Some neurological problems associated with aging are clearly related to nutritional deficiencies and respond to dietary and nutrient treatment. Pellagrologists discovered this soon after it was shown that vitamin B3 cured some forms of pellagra. Many patients suffering from organic confusional psychoses and neurological symptoms recovered when treated with large enough doses of niacin, even when these patients had no history of poor diet.

I (A. H.) was familiar with this literature when I began to treat schizophrenics with large doses of vitamin B3 in 1951. As soon as an opportunity arose, I began to treat a number of these neurological conditions. Early in 1952, I treated a middle-aged man for depression and serious confusion. He had been given a series of electroconvulsive treatments (ECT), which had relieved the depression but had left him confused and severely memory impaired. He was able to function at home with the help of his devoted wife. As there was no known treatment and I could not leave him as he was, I started him on niacin, 3,000 milligrams (3 g) per day, in three divided doses. One month later, to my amazement, he was well: the vitamin had removed the negative effects of the ECT and allowed its positive effects to remain.

 

15. Psychiatric and Behavioral Disorders

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Asyndrome is a constellation of symptoms and signs that point toward one or more causes of illness, or toward a functional problem with an organ of the body. Thus pneumonia symptoms, a constellation of fever and pain in the chest that worsens on movement, all suggest pathology in the lung. Such may arise from infection, bacteria, virus, and so on. It is important to determine the cause, since different diseases, even when they cause the same syndrome, require different treatments. This applies to the brain and central nervous system as well as to any other organ.

Psychiatric diagnosis has been based on the idea that the various diseases are due to psychosocial factors. Physiological or biochemical factors have begun to receive more attention only recently, but this is not yet reflected in the psychiatric nomenclature. Thus, schizophrenia is subdivided into various groups by clinical criteria, which are not related to causes and do not indicate what treatment has the best chance of success.

 

16. Epilepsy and Huntington’s Disease

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In this chapter, we look at two additional neurological conditions, epilepsy and Huntington’s disease.

Niacin and niacinamide have anticonvulsant properties, but they are not strong enough to be used as the sole anticonvulsant. They potentiate the action of standard anticonvulsant drugs. I (A. H.) have given them to several epileptics who were not under good control with the usual medications; to achieve good control, they needed so much anticonvulsant medication that they were drowsy and sluggish and could not function normally. By adding vitamin B3 (1,000 milligrams, taken as directed), it was possible to obtain better control with half the dose of anticonvulsant, and they were able to work and function in the community.1

The anticonvulsant dose is not reduced until the patient has been on niacin (or niacinamide) for several months. Then, the dose of anticonvulsant is slowly reduced while monitoring carefully for frequency of grand mal or petit mal seizures and degree of sensation. Other researchers have reported on the antiepileptic activity of niacinamide, noting that it also potentiates the effects of tranquilizers.2 It is important to note that niacinamide improved the therapeutic index of anticonvulsants, meaning the therapeutic effect was enhanced but the toxicity was not. No other anticonvulsants have been shown to do so.

 

17. Allergies, Infections, Toxic Reactions, Trauma, Lupus, and Multiple Sclerosis

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Medicine began when the first human discomfort was something visible or palpable, like a boil or a swollen ankle. But local medicine treats a fraction of the illnesses, and perhaps only a minor fraction—the rest is dealing with metabolic reactions that affect the entire body. Metabolic stress is caused by a number of factors: genetics, malnutrition and starvation, invasions by living organisms (viruses, bacteria, fungi, and large parasites), trauma, fracture, burns, allergies and food sensitivities, and toxic reactions to heavy metals and other substances. No one can doubt that a healthy person can withstand insults better than one who is less healthy. The natural defenses of our bodies must be maintained at their optimum efficiency. We believe that enhanced nutritional health will increase defenses to the point that the incidence of a large number of diseases is decreased, and if disease is already present, then healing is accelerated.

Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) at optimum doses is very effective in helping the body heal itself even when invaded by massive quantities of bacteria, viruses, or other invaders. The B vitamins are very important as well. For example, vitamin B3 will enhance the body’s defenses against tuberculosis and bacteria. As a general rule, any deficiency or relative deficiency reduces our ability to protect ourselves effectively against invasion. While a few organisms (such as tuberculosis) are able to protect themselves against the body’s defense system, or at least to render it less effective, they can generally be contained more effectively when nutrients such as B3 and ascorbic acid are used.

 

18. Skin Problems

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Adolescent acne is one of the most common afflictions, but it is seldom the main complaint among the patients referred to me (A. H.). Rarely is it so severe that it is the primary concern. About thirty years ago, in Saskatoon, a sixteen-year-old boy was very depressed. His face was hideously covered with huge, irregular, red, oozing bumps and lumps, here and there infected. He told me he could no longer live with his face and that if my treatment did not help he would kill himself. He told me this very calmly and seriously, saying that the acne had ruined his social life.

I have never considered acne a chronic infection and cannot understand why antibiotics help, but they had not helped him. I consider acne a form of malnutrition, as does Dr. Carl C. Pfeiffer, and he describes a nutritional treatment for acne in his book Mental and Elemental Nutrients.1 I started the boy on a sugar-free diet, eliminated all milk products, and added a daily supplement program of niacin (3,000 milligrams [mg]), ascorbic acid (3,000 mg), pyridoxine (250 mg), and zinc sulfate (220 mg). One month later, his face was better: the vivid reddening had begun to recede, his face was no longer infected, and his mood was better. He told me he was no longer considering suicide. After three months, his face was almost clear. He was cheerful and had begun to resume his social activities at school and elsewhere.

 

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