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If you like Linus Pauling's story, you might also like:
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Freeman Dyson,
Gertrude Elion,
Paul Farmer,
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Linus Pauling's recommended reading: The War of the Worlds

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Linus Pauling in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Advocacy & Citizenship
Meet a Nobel Laureate
The Power of Words

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Nobel Prize
Profiles in Science
Pauling Institute

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Linus Pauling
Linus Pauling
Profile of Linus Pauling Biography of Linus Pauling Interview with Linus Pauling Linus Pauling Photo Gallery

Linus Pauling Interview (page: 6 / 9)

Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Peace

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  Linus Pauling

You did a great deal of work on the molecular basis of disease, which has also been controversial. What led you in that direction?

Linus Pauling Interview Photo
Linus Pauling: In 1935, after I had worked on the structure and the basic principals determining the structure of inorganic compounds, including minerals and simple organic compounds, I began work on hemoglobin and other very large molecules in the human body. By 1948, I discovered the alpha-helix and the pleated sheets, the basis, the principal ways of folding polypeptide chains and proteins. It was an important discovery.

In 1945 I had the idea about molecular diseases, and this started a field of medicine, a class of diseases called hemoglobinopathies. It had not been known before my discovery of the hemoglobinopathies that you could have diseases of molecules, these large molecules of the human body. So it was an important contribution. I decided after working on the hemoglobinopathies for several years to shift to mental disease, and reported some new ideas about anesthesia, and about schizophrenia and other diseases. In 1968 I published my first two papers introducing the adjective "orthomolecular." These were about orthomolecular psychiatry and orthomolecular medicine in general.

Orthomolecular medicine is the adjustment of the amount of orthomolecular substances in the human body to achieve the best of health and the smallest incidence of disease and provide the best additional methods even of treating disease.

Orthomolecular substances, I said, are substances that are normally present in the human body and are required for life. Some of them we make for ourselves in the liver, say, or in other cells in the body. Some we have to get in our foods or in vitamin supplements or other dietary supplements.

The remarkable thing about orthomolecular substances, such as vitamins, there are many others, is their astonishingly low toxicity. If a patient with severe arthritis takes ten times as much aspirin as the doctor has prescribed, the patient will be dead. In general, drugs are given in amounts coming close to the amount that will kill a person. I was astonished to learn, some 25 years ago, that vitamins are very powerful substances, in that a little pinch of a vitamin every day is all that you need to keep from dying of scurvy or berri-berri or pellagra or other vitamin-deficiency diseases, but that you can take 1,000 or 10,000 times that much, day after day, without any serious toxicity showing up. No problems with these large amounts. So, I thought, this is something that I hadn't known before. My picture of the universe did not include these orthomolecular substances -- a term that I invented -- these orthomolecular substances that have powerful physiological effects but are also essentially non-toxic. So the question comes up in my mind, I know that the authorities recommend an intake, the RDA [Recommended Daily Allowance] of the various vitamins. And, they say this intake will keep most people from showing signs of vitamin deficiency or from dying of vitamin deficiency. So I ask, since you can tolerate very much larger amounts, even 1,000 times larger, what are the amounts that would put me and other people in the best of health? So for over 20 years I have been working on that problem.

I think it really offers great opportunities for improved health. People who take these vitamins and other orthomolecular substances in the optimum amounts can live 25 or 35 years longer than otherwise. More than that, they will be free of diseases. This optimum nutrition, with the orthomolecular substances, cuts down the probability of developing cancer, or heart disease or diabetes, or infectious diseases.

Linus Pauling Interview Photo
In general, it gives people much better health than they would have under ordinary conditions, where they are suffering from hypovitaminosis of different kinds, too small amounts of the various vitamins in their bodies. Of course, I had the collaboration of physicians and scientists, but for 25 years, this has been one of my principal interests. I think it may well turn out that my associates and I, along with other people who have had similar ideas in the past, will be credited with having made an extremely important contribution to health, and to the decrease in the amount of suffering associated with increasing age.

There has been a lot of positive response to your views on the use of vitamins, but there are still many skeptics, including many people in the scientific community. To what do you attribute that skepticism?

Linus Pauling: I don't think that there are many skeptics in the scientific community. Scientists know me from way back. They are in a position to appreciate the significance of anything that I say. It is the MD's -- the physicians -- that constitute the problem, with a few exceptions. A few oddball scientists say that I am wrong. It is mainly just the medical establishment that supplies the opposition to orthomolecular medicine. Two books have been written discussing just this problem. One of them is The Vitamin C Controversy by Dr. Ebolene Richards. Another, by Ralph Moss, is called The Cancer Industry. Each of them suggests that the profit motive plays an important part.

The drugs that are used to treat cancer and heart disease and other diseases often are sold at very high prices. They run hundreds of millions, hundreds of billions of dollars every year spent on medicine. Much of it goes to the cost of the drugs, which may be several thousand dollars per year per patient, and the cost of paying physicians for their time and paying for the very expensive diagnostic instruments that are used, and so on. And I can understand concern about opposition coming through the treatment of diseases or prevention of diseases by substances that cost almost nothing. Vitamins are very cheap, you know. So the profit motive probably is operating here, even though the medical authorities might deny it.

I gather from what you are saying, you don't feel that there is as much danger of people getting a toxic level of vitamins, as there is a danger of them not having enough in their system to prevent disease.

Linus Pauling Interview Photo
Linus Pauling: Well, there is essentially no danger of damage from overdosage by vitamins. Even the damage from vitamin A, which is always mentioned as the dangerous one, is very small compared with overdoses from drugs. Such over-the-counter drugs as aspirin cause hundreds of deaths per year. Nobody has ever died -- possibly one person is known to have died from an overdose of vitamin A. So there is no danger from overdoses of vitamins, essentially. There is a limitation on the amount of vitamin A that is recommended. I have said I think people shouldn't take more than 25 times the recommended RDA. Now it is said you shouldn't take more than eight times or ten times the RDA of A. Some people develop headaches if they take 40,000 units of vitamin A per day for long periods of time. That's all right. You can take betacarotene -- which is a precursor of vitamin A, and changes into vitamin A in the human body -- without limit. No toxic dose is known for betacarotene.

I knew a man who took 130,000 milligrams of vitamin C a day for 13 years to control his cancer -- that's a quarter of a pound of vitamin C a day -- so he wouldn't need to eat so much starch. He could rely to some extent on burning the vitamin C in the cells of his body to provide energy, as well as controlling the cancer. I take 300 times the RDA of vitamin C per day. I have been doing that for years. And I take 80 times of the RDA of vitamin E. I take about ten times the RDA of vitamin A, plus a good slug of betacarotene. I take about 25 times the RDA of the other B vitamins. And I take the recommended amounts as far as minerals too -- not large amounts, the recommended amounts. I drink milk everyday. I am not one of the people with a deficiency of lactose, the people who get digestive upsets if they try drinking milk, or eat milk products that contain lactose, milk sugar.

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