Skip to comments.The Dark Side of Linus Pauling's Legacy (Vitamin C & the common cold)
Posted on 11/10/2008 2:14:06 PM PST by yankeedame
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Linus Pauling, Ph.D. (1901-1994), was the only person ever to win two unshared Nobel prizes. He received these awards for chemistry in 1954 and for peace in 1962. He contributed greatly to the development of chemical theories. His impact on the health marketplace, however, was anything but laudable.
Pauling is largely responsible for the widespread misbelief that high doses of vitamin C are effective against colds and other illnesses. In 1968, he postulated that people's needs for vitamins and other nutrients vary markedly and that to maintain good health, many people need amounts of nutrients much greater than the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs). And he speculated that megadoses of certain vitamins and minerals might well be the treatment of choice for some forms of mental illness.
He termed this approach "orthomolecular," meaning "right molecule." After that, he steadily expanded the list of illnesses he believed could be influenced by "orthomolecular" therapy and the number of nutrients suitable for such use. No responsible medical or nutrition scientists share these views.
Vitamin C and the Common Cold
In 1970, Pauling announced in Vitamin C and the Common Cold that taking 1,000 mg of vitamin C daily will reduce the incidence of colds by 45% for most people but that some people need much larger amounts . (The RDA for vitamin C is 60 mg.) The 1976 revision of the book, retitled Vitamin C, the Common Cold and the Flu, suggested even higher dosages .
A third book, Vitamin C and Cancer (1979) claims that high doses of vitamin C may be effective against cancer. Yet another book, How to Feel Better and Live Longer (1986), stated that megadoses of vitamins "can improve your general health . . . to increase your enjoyment of life and can help in controlling heart disease, cancer, and other diseases and in slowing down the process of aging." 
Pauling himself reportedly took at least 12,000 mg daily and raised the amount to 40,000 mg if symptoms of a cold appear . In 1993, after undergoing radiation therapy for prostate cancer, Pauling said that vitamin C had delayed the cancer's onset for twenty years.
This was not a testable claim. He died of the disease in August 1994.
Scientific fact is established when the same experiment is carried out over and over again with the same results. To test the effect of vitamin C on colds, it is necessary to compare groups which get the vitamin to similar groups which get a placebo (a dummy pill which looks like the real thing). Since the common cold is a very variable illness, proper tests must involve hundreds of people for significantly long periods of time.
At least 16 well-designed, double-blind studies have shown that supplementation with vitamin C does not prevent colds and at best may slightly reduce the symptoms of a cold .
Slight symptom reduction may occur as the result of an antihistamine-like effect, but whether this has practical value is a matter of dispute. Pauling's views are based on the same studies considered by other scientists, but his analyses are flawed.
The largest clinical trials, involving thousands of volunteers, were directed by Dr. Terence Anderson, professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto [6-9]. Taken together, his studies suggest that extra vitamin C may slightly reduce the severity of colds, but it is not necessary to take the high doses suggested by Pauling to achieve this result. Nor is there anything to be gained by taking vitamin C supplements year-round in the hope of preventing colds.
Another important study was reported in 1975 by scientists at the National Institutes of Health who compared vitamin C pills with a placebo before and during colds. Although the experiment was supposed to be double-blind, half the subjects were able to guess which pill they were getting.
When the results were tabulated with all subjects lumped together, the vitamin group reported fewer colds per person over a nine-month period. But among the half who hadn't guessed which pill they had been taking, no difference in the incidence or severity was found . This illustrates how people who think they are doing something effective (such as taking a vitamin) can report a favorable result even when none exists...
[The lenghty excerpted section deals with vitamin C and cancer and cancer treatment.]
Other Questionable Activities
During the mid-1970s, Pauling helped lead the health-food industry's campaign for a federal law that weakened FDA protection of consumers against misleading nutrition claims. In 1977 and 1979, Pauling received awards and presented his views on vitamin C at the annual conventions of the National Nutritional Foods Association (the major trade association of health-food retailers, distributors and producers).
In 1981, he accepted an award from the National Health Federation (NHF) for "services rendered in behalf of health freedom" and gave his daughter a life membership in this organization.
NHF promotes the gamut of quackery. Many of its leaders have been in legal difficulty and some have even received prison sentences for various "health" activities. Pauling also spoke at a Parker School for Professional Success Seminar, a meeting where chiropractors were taught highly questionable methods of building their practices. An ad for the meeting invited chiropractors to pose with Pauling for a photograph (which presumably could be used for publicity when the chiropractors returned home).
In 1981, after learning that Pauling had donated money to NHF (for his daughter's life membership), I asked whether he knew about NHF's shady background and the fact that it was the leading antifluoridation force in the United States. I also asked whether he cared that the money might be used to help fight fluoridation.
In a series of letters, he replied that he:
He also sent me a profluoridation statement he had issued in 1967 . His claim that he had spoken out for fluoridation surprised me. Although I have read thousands of documents related to Pauling's views and activities, I had never encountred any other indication that he had publicly supported fluoridation.
In 1983, Pauling and Irwin Stone testified at a hearing on behalf of Oscar Falconi, a vitamin promoter charged by the Postal Service with making false claims for several products. Pauling supported Falconi's contentions that vitamin C was useful not only in preventing cancer, but also in curing drug addicts and destroying both viruses and bacteria.
The Administrative Law Judge concluded that Pauling could not substantiate his claims .
Pauling also testified in 1984 before the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance in defense of Michael Gerber, M.D., who was accused of improperly administering to patients.
-- One was a 56-year-old woman with treatable cancer whothe Board concludedhad died as a result of Gerber's neglect while he treated her with herbs, enzymes, coffee enemas, and chelation therapy.
-- The other patients were three-year-old twin boys with ear infections for which Gerber had prescribed 70,000 or more units of vitamin A daily and coffee enemas twice daily for several weeks.
Gerber lost his license to practice medicine as a result of the hearings. He now practices in Nevada under a homeopathic license.
A flyer distributed in 1991 by the Linus Pauling Institute recommended daily doses of 6,000 to 18,000 mg of vitamin C, 400 to 1,600 IU of vitamin E, and 25,000 IU of vitamin A, plus various other vitamins and minerals. These dosages have no proven benefit and can cause troublesome side effects.
Today's Linus Pauling Institute
After Pauling died, fundraising appeals expressed concern that his death would make it more difficult to raise funds to continue the institute's operations. In 1996, the assets of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine were used to establish the Linus Pauling Institute (LPI) as a research institute at OSU to investigate the function and role of micronutrients, phytochemicals and microconstituents of food in maintaining human health and preventing and treating disease; and to advance the knowledge in areas which were of interest to Linus Pauling through research and education .
The LPI Web site has excellent articles about the function and role of many nutrients. Except for vitamin E, the LPI's recommended nutrient levels are in line with prevailing scientific opinions.
One article notes that Pauling's vitamin C recommendations were based on "theoretical arguments" and that we now have much more scientific information upon which to base recommendations . This certainly is true but glosses over the fact that Pauling's meganutrient theories were absurd and were maintained even after scientific studies refuted them. Overall, however, the LPI is now a respectable education and research facility.
The Bottom Line
Although Pauling's megavitamin claims lacked the evidence needed for acceptance by the scientific community, they have been accepted by large numbers of people who lack the scientific expertise to evaluate them. Thanks largely to Pauling's prestige, annual vitamin C sales in the United States have been in the hundreds of millions of dollars for many years.
Pauling also played a role in the health food industry's successful campaign to weaken FDA consumer protections laws.
The Linus Pauling Institute that bears his name has evolved into a respectable organization. But Pauling's irrational advice about supplements continues to lead people astray.
Did the guy have a way to tap your own sinuses at home to drain them? Everything is clogged, it even hurts behind my eyes.
Has anyone proved his belief false, or have they merely shown poor support for his beliefs? I’d certainly say that Vitamin C SEEMS to help me cut a cold short, but I have to recognize that my own anecdotal experiences are far short of a well-controlled experiment.
How’s your health?
I know how you feel. Hubby brought a cold home from work and I’m on my peak day today. My aches have pains!
I take Vit C daily, but it didn’t help this one.
His beliefs and research are AT LEAST as bonafide as the Statin claims we have been seeing for the last 10 years.
With Vitamin C, a cold only lasts a week. Without it, a cold lasts 7 days.
My observations are anecdotal, but there is NO doubt that taking goodly quantities of Vitamin C cuts a cold short with my wife. The moment she starts feeling the scratchiness coming on, she doses up. The vast majority of the time, it never goes any further.
With me, it's not as effective as it is with her, but it does help some.
MM (in TX)
My remedy is not scientific but it works for me. At the first sign of a cold (sniffles, etc.) I start drinking a shot of whiskey every four hours to six hours.
Has been working for me for ten years.
Besides, I can’t take over the counter stuff.
I’m an avid reader of Arthur Robinson. Arthur Robinson worked with Pauling from 1961-1978 and co-founded the Pauling Institute. The two had a falling out in 1978 over the the effects of Vitamin C and cancer.
“He was not willing to accept the experimentally proved fact that vitamin C in ordinary doses accelerated the growth rate of squamous cell carcinoma in these mice. At the time, Linus was promoting his claim that “75% of all cancer can be prevented and cured by vitamin C alone.” This claim proved to be without experimental foundation and not true, although the possibility that modest doses of vitamin C somewhat improve resistance to cancer has never been adequately tested.”
I really do wish I could believe some of the “science” that is coming out of science. The trouble is that science depends on the integrity of the people doing the research. Whatever you may think about Intelligent Design, Ben Stein’s movie showed some pretty unsavory people acting like high priests guarding the temple, instead of open-minded researchers willing to entertain new ideas. I don’t trust them.
The same quacks who admit on record that the drugs they push rarely help more than half the people that take them?
Shucks, if I did that I could have pneumonia and I wouldn’t know it. Sounds like a fantastic remedy. I think I’ll start my regimen right now! Thanks.
Cold-Eeze brand lozenges work well at the first sign of a cold. I’d also try the Zicam products that Rush advertises. I have no monetary interest in either.
Cancer thrives in a body whose pH is acidic. Refined carbs and refined sugars tilt the body from it’s normal slightly alkaline pH to acidic.
So it seems that the diet restrictions would make sense. Cancer needs sugars/carbs to fuel it, and eating veggies and some fruits (simple unrefined sugars) would really cut off the fuel supply. Without fuel the cancer cells can’t sustain themselves.
Actually both of those have worked for me in the past. I just didn’t have any on hand and decided to play the martyr so guilty hubby could wait on me for a change!! roflmao
Nothing helps cure a cold except time and many days in bed watching TV, sleeping, reading and drinking lots of hot tea heavily laced with fresh lemon juice, honey and a good heavy shot of brandy, cognac or whiskey.
Rinse and repeat many, many times till the pain goes away or you pass out. You'll be better in a week or 7 days, whichever comes first.
If you're Jewish, try chicken soup. A nice big matzoh ball is an extra added attraction.
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