Nutrition has been a controversial subject in the medical world throughout the 20th Century. The discovery of vitamins is as much a hallmark of progress in this century as the discovery of microbes, was to the 19th. It was difficult then for intelligent people to imagine that invisible specks of matter, germs, could cause illness. It has been even more difficult in our own time to appreciate nutrients, even smaller specks of matter that cause illness by their absence! Orthomolecular medicine addresses the challenge of finding optimal concentrations of nutrients for healing and for health. Whether by laboratory testing or systematic alterations of dietary intake, orthomolecular medicine is a search for your personal nutritional balance.
I remember the excitement of the early days in orthomolecular medicine—back in 1970, when Linus Pauling was raising hackles with his vitamin C research. His main point was that the RDA, the government recommended dose of 60 mg, was a minimum, not optimum. Optimal doses might vary according to individual genetics and circumstances, including stress, infection, toxicity, etc. Thus an optimal dose of vitamin C for treating the Common Cold might mean large doses, megadoses, a thousand times the RDA. Despite the extremely favorable safety record of vitamins, it was the idea of megavitamin therapy became the sticking point. Conventional medical authorities considered this to be quackery. Even Dr. Pauling, seemingly secure in his fame and prestige after receiving not one but two Nobel Prizes, was not immune to personal attacks by colleagues and commentators. Though he was only 70 years old and actively engaged in the management of his research institute, he was called senile by some of his critics.
Orthomolecular physicians were also called names, but whatever apprehension we had was offset by the weight of the evidence: nutrition was in the ascendant phase, buoyed aloft by a tidal wave of research studies attesting to the power of nutrients in health and disease. We wondered why the mentality of the medical profession was so dead set against nutrition therapy and so blind to the facts. Most of us concluded that the medical profession was in the throes of change and that orthodox doctors were not able to keep up with the information explosion that has forced a paradigm shift in medicine from a focus on disease and drugs to biochemistry and physiology and the environmental factors of nutrition and pollution.
Because orthomolecular psychiatry is rooted in biochemistry and physiology, it makes sense to include it in any medical approach to brain functioning and mental disorders. My post-doctoral training in neurophysiology impressed on me that the mind is a reflection of the brain, a physical organ, made up of trillions of cells, producing chemicals, such as lactic acid, acetylcholine, dopamine, epinephrine and serotonin, and regulated by enzymes and hormones that in turn depend on vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fats. I was interested in biochemistry so it was natural to be interested in nutrients; and so my mind was prepared to appreciate the megavitamin research of Drs. Hoffer, Osmond and Smythies, which was ongoing already for 15 years at the time I became involved, in 1967.
Because of megavitamin therapy I was able to help a patient who was otherwise responding poorly to her anti-psychotic medication (Stelazine). The prescription of a gram of niacinamide twice a day, about 100 times the RDA, ended her hallucinations within 3 days. She was grateful and her family was grateful. It was an unforgettable experience. Could I ever turn back to talk therapy after such success with molecular medicine? Could I ignore nutrition and nutrient therapy ever again? Since then I have seen thousands of cases that support my confidence in this approach, not only for the immediate benefits but also for the lifetime health advantages that it offers. Let me quote from a letter I found on my e-mail just a few days ago:
It was titled: “I’m an old patient of yours.” “I found your e-mail address in Dr. Whitaker’s Directory of Nutrition-Oriented Physicians. This gives me the perfect opportunity to thank you after so many years have passed. Thank you so very much for your great work. My mother insisted that I come to you as a teen and later as an adult when I was expecting my first child. I really believe your vitamin therapy during my pregnancy helped make my children exceptional. Both are in the GATE program (Gifted and Talented). I strongly believe that there is a strong connection with B vitamins and brain development...(and) I had wheat germ everyday and gave it to the children in their cereal when they were old enough to eat solid food. Thanks again, you have done much for this family.”
I was surprised and pleased to hear from this delightful young woman after 20 years have gone by. As a 17-year-old she suffered chronic fatigue and chemical sensitivity and was seriously depressed at times. She improved after simple nutrient supplementation, possibly because of zinc deficiency, which was evident in her laboratory profile. She did not return until 5 years later, early in her first pregnancy. Again fatigue was oppressive and she had headache and loss of appetite. I made note of her very dry skin, which I knew was a sign of deficiency of essential fatty acids. To my surprise now, in retrospect, I did not prescribe either flax or fish oil. These omega-3 essential fatty acids are known to be crucial for normal fetal development and for optimal brain development. But good quality flax oil was not yet available at the time and the raunchy, foul-smelling fish oil products of the day were not acceptable. So I think she deserves most of the credit for producing healthy children; but it was vital that she had first-hand experience with orthomolecular health-medicine at such an early age. That is something to be thankful about.
Here is another case from a grateful patient, who took the trouble to write a brief description of her progress after nutrient treatment for lifelong eye problems. Nan was 63 years old and facing the prospect of a corneal transplant when she consulted me because of “extreme sensitivity to light, constant feeling of something in eye, tearing, and involuntary closing of eyelids.” She had been struck in the right eye by a tennis ball at age 8, and it was never right after that. She did not complain of poor general health but had always been infertile and had chronic iron deficiency anemia. Despite supplemental iron therapy over the years, her blood remained low in iron and the iron storage protein, ferritin, was at the lowest level I have ever seen, only 1 mg (normally 20 to 200). Her failure to absorb iron most likely represents malabsorption due to deficient stomach acid. Another sign of digestive inadequacy was found in laboratory examination of feces, which showed excessive numbers of potentially adverse organisms, such as klebsiella and various streptococci, and a total lack of the digestive enzyme, trypsin. It was not until correction of gastric acid and enzyme deficiencies that she began to heal her eye symptoms.
In her own words: “The correction of my eye problems is an exciting, rewarding adventure in learning and health. The original application of sodium ascorbate compresses and SOD (superoxide dismutase) drops was the first miracle! The improvement was immediate and continued. I apologize for the extravagant language but after years of frustration, confusion, and increasing problems, only superlatives describe my reaction.
“Discontinuing wheat in my diet was the next large step. The very persistent and long-term gas and edema problems dissipated, indicating that allergy was a factor in my general health. The use of bromelain (digestive enzymes) made such marked changes in my well being I have undertaken to experiment with Dr. Arthur Coca’s pulse studies to determine food allergies. My usual pulse rate dropped when I stopped eating wheat, in February, from 72 to a range of 68-70. Sugar (cane) causes a radical rise to 90, and even a communion wafer (wheat) causes a rise from 67 to 75...Most interesting is that when I eat an allergic food my vision is less clear and my eyes are very sticky in the morning...And now I think that the weight changes I used to attribute to hormones were the result of food allergy. I’ll never again use the phrase “just allergy.” The damage is too wide ranging. I’ll be forever grateful for nutritional medicine and a doctor who studies the patient rather than a checklist of pre-determined problems.
“At church I find an inscription across from where I regularly sit, coming into improved focus each week. Yesterday the words had shape but could not be read. On a smaller scale in normal typescript words have regained distinct shape (with no glasses) but cannot yet be read. Overall, the world is brighter and clearer. The extreme sensitivity to light is gone entirely as is the tearing. Computer use is again possible and recently I watched 2 successive movies on TV with no discomfort. Since late summer 1995 I always read with both eyes again.”
Is there any single health function more important than eyesight? For her entire life, Nan’s doctors, all knowledgeable and caring specialists, had treated her without understanding the connection to her digestive problems, which they ignored so completely that she eventually failed to make any mention of it to them. I have read their reports and they explicitly regarded her as a healthy person —except for eye problems, dermatitis and blepharitis, which they treated symptomatically. Healing was incomplete because of nutrient deficiencies secondary to intestinal malabsorption. She was getting worse year by year until she began to treat her eye problems as bowel problems. In her case chronic intestinal problems and wheat intolerance kept her from reaching full strength all her life. Eye drops alone could not solve the problem, not even the antioxidant SOD drops (superoxide dismutase). But after changing her diet to avoid wheat and undertaking regular use of stomach acid supplements, enzymes, and supplementation with vitamins, especially folic acid and vitamin A, she has turned back her health clock, regaining visual acuity lost over 20 years ago. At the same time she has gained weight, energy, and well-being. She really does feel better than ever before in her life. Nan has a lot to be thankful for at this Thanksgiving season. As a physician, I am also thankful to be able to share with her the advances and advantages of orthomolecular health medicine.
©2007 Richard A. Kunin, M.D.