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Megavitamin therapy

Megavitamin therapy is the use of large amounts of vitamins, often many times greater than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) in the attempt to prevent or treat many types of diseases.

Frequently used in complementary and alternative medicine and orthomolecular medicine, megavitamin therapy also employs nutrients such as dietary minerals, enzymes, amino acids, essential fatty acids, natural antioxidants, fermentable dietary fiber or short chain fatty acids. Historically, megavitamin therapies have been stigmatized [1] by mainstream medical organizations and their associates.[2]

Additional recommended knowledge



In the 1930s and 1940s, some scientific and clinical evidence suggested that there might be beneficial uses of vitamins C, E and B-3 in large doses. Beginning in the 1930s, the Shutes in Canada developed a megadose vitamin E therapy for cardiovascular and circulatory complaints, naming it the "Shute protocol" [5]. Tentative experiments in the 1930s[6][7] with larger doses of vitamin C were superseded by Fred R. Klenner's development of megadose intravenous vitamin C treatments in the 1940s[8]. William Kaufman, MD, PhD, published two books in the 1940s that detailed his treatment of arthritis with frequent, high doses of niacinamide[9][10][11].

In 1954, Professor R. Altschul and Abram Hoffer, MD, PhD, applied large doses of the immediate release form of niacin (Vitamin B-3) to treat hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol). High dose niacin was shown to be more effective than conventional treatments in the Canner study of the Coronary Drug Project, a large scale, prospective, randomized, controlled trial to reduce long term total mortality, showed 11% reduction in mortality at 15 years follow up with only 6 years of niacin treatment. The other conventional approaches (two estrogen regimens, dextrothyroxine and clofibrate) —treatments that are no longer standard of care—were ineffective.[3]. Niacin is used to treat hypercholesterolemia because of its low cost and its unique ability to broadly improve lipid profiles for ApoB[12], LDL, small dense LDL, HDL, HDL2b (extremely good cholesterol), Lp(a), fibrinogen and trigycerides[13].

The 1956 publication of Roger J. Williams Biochemical Individuality introduced concepts for individualized megavitamins and nutrients. In the 1960s, biochemist Irwin Stone, author of The Healing Factor, observed that vitamin C's utility in the megadose treatments of human disease parallels the amounts of vitamin C physiologically produced in most animals and postulated humans' evolutionary loss of this capability. Megavitamin therapies were also publicly advocated by Linus Pauling in the late 1960s.

Several orthomolecular megavitamin protocols have been publicized.[4] While formal medical recognition of niacin therapy for hypercholesterolemia followed confirmation by William Parsons of the Mayo Clinic (1956) and the Canner study (1986), the success of several popular books since the 1980s has made the public more aware of niacin's effective megavitamin therapy for dyslipidemias (abnormal lipid levels in the blood). Pauling's advocacy of megadoses of vitamin C for colds, beginning in the 1960s, and later for cancer, made millions aware of the concept of megavitamin treatment in disease. Pauling's vitamin C recommendations are lower than some modern recommendations.

Other treatments include orthomolecular oral dosing schedules for an early, "abortive" treatment of a cold at onset, and for bowel tolerance for more established colds,[5] typically using 40 to 100+ grams per day in hourly doses as recommended as effective by orthomolecular practitioners.

Usage of therapy

An American cottage industry in the late 20th century, the evolving megavitamin therapy are integrated with orthomolecular and naturopathic medicine. Although megavitamin therapy still largely remains outside of the structure of conventional medicine and the pharmaceutical industry, they are increasingly used by patients, with or without the approval of their treating physicians.[14] In the 21st century, proposed megavitamin therapies with vitamin C are being evaluated for their possible use in cancer[15].

Criticism and side effects

The effectiveness of various megavitamin therapies has been disputed by many conventional medical personnel,[6] including about safety, definition and validation of efficacy. For example, critics point out that there is no strong evidence that ingesting once a day supplements of 1 to 3 grams of Vitamin C is effective in treating the common cold for ordinary people.[citation needed] There is some evidence that similar intermediate dosages might help some stressed or compromised subpopulations[7] and that the orthomolecular advocates publish, and use, much higher, more frequent oral dose recommendations for vitamin C, in the 40 to 100+ grams per day range for treating colds.

Some megadose vitamin uses, often older pharmaceutical ones such as neonatal use of synthetic menadione, "a synthetic lipid soluble product which was once called vitamin K3",[8][9] [10] can cause toxicity, and in the case of K3 large doses may cause hemolytic anemia. Hemolytic anemia occurs when the red blood cells die more quickly than the body can reproduce. In addition, K3 speeds liver damage, producing jaundice, deafness, and severe neurological problems, including retardation in infants. There is no record that the other two, natural, forms of Vitamin K have produced toxic levels.[11] The pharmaceutical synthetic, K3, is now banned in most countries for neonatal or general human use. These were not orthomolecular type megavitain treatments.

Extremely high dose vitamin A for previous conventional pediatrics and dermatology practices,[12] beyond orthomolecular therapy ranges, have been deprecated by some medical organizations of minor political units as ineffective and potentially toxic[13]

The term "megavitamin therapy" itself was criticized by opponents of orthomolecular psychiatry in the early 1970s as misleading, because they believed the term falsely implied therapeutic benefit, because of a dispute over scientific proof.[14][15][16] In response to criticisms about the potential dangers of these therapies, megavitamin proponents point[17] to the almost zero level of autopsied deaths caused by overdosing with vitamins compared to the significant numbers from pharmaceuticals, including a number of over-the-counter items.[18]

Administration of very large doses of vitamin A,[19] vitamin C, vitamin D, and pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) may have adverse side effects, usually when used alone rather than balanced with other vitamins[16] or in large, non-orthmolecular overdoses.

The United States Department of Agriculture establishes a maximum intake level for most vitamins, at which no adverse effects should occur. These are part of the Dietary Reference Intake recommendation.

See also


  • Abram Hoffer (1998) Putting It All Together: The New Orthomolecular Nutrition, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-87983-633-4
  • Pauling, Linus (1986) How to Live Longer and Feel Better, W. H. Freeman and Company, ISBN 0-380-70289-4
  • Roger J. Williams, Dwight K. Kalita (1979) Physician's Handbook on Orthomolecular Medicine, Keats Publishing, ISBN 0-87983-199-5
  • Roger J Williams (1998) Biochemical Individuality: The Basis for the Genetotrophic Concept. 2nd ed. Keats Publishing. ISBN 0-87983-893-0
  • Canner, P.L., Berge, K.G., Wenger, N.K., et al. Fifteen year mortality in Coronary Drug Project patients: long-term benefit with niacin. J Am Coll Cardiol, 1986, 8: 1245-1255.
  • Meyers, et al, Varying Cost and Free Nicotinic Acid Content in Over-the-Counter Niacin Preparations for Dyslipidemia, Annals of Internal Med. 2003 Dec 16;139(12):996-1002 [17]
  • Guyton, J. R., Blazing, M.A., Hagar, J., et al. Extended-release niacin vs Gemfibrozil for the treatment of low levels of high density lipoprotein cholesterol. Arch Intern Med, 2000, 160: 1177-1184.
  • Kamanna, V.S., Kashyap, M.L., Mechanism of Action of Niacin on Lipoprotein Metabolism, Current Atherosclerosis Reports 2000, 2:36-46
  • Heady JA, Morris JN, Oliver MF. WHO clofibrate/cholesterol trial: clarifications. Lancet 1992; 340: 1405-1406.
  • Frick MH, Elo O, Haapa K, et al. Helsinki Heart Study: primary prevention trial with gemfibrozil in middle-aged men with dyslipidemia. Safety of treatment, changes in risk factors, and incidence of coronary heart disease. N Engl J Med 1987; 317: 1237-1245.
  • Irwin Stone (1972) The Healing Factor: Vitamin C Against Disease, GD/Perigee Books (Putnam Pub) ISBN 0-399-50764-7 [18]

Historical References

  • Wilfred Shute (1980) Complete Updated Vitamin E Book. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, ISBN 0-87983-151-0
  • Jungeblut, C. W., Vitamin C Therapy and Prophylaxis in Experimental Poliomyelitis. J. Exper. Med., 1937, 65, 127. [19]
  • Jungeblut, C. W., Further Observations on Vitamin C. Therapy in Experimental Poliomyelitis. J. Exper. Med., 1937, 66, 459.
  • Klenner, F. R., The Treatment of Poliomyelitis and Other Virus Diseases With vitamin C, So. Med. and Surg. vol. III #7, 113:101-107 July 1949 [20]
  • Klenner, F. R., Virus Pneumonia and Its Treatment With Vitamin C, So. Medicine & Surgery, Vol. 110, February, 1948, No. 2, pp. 36-38, 46
  • Klenner, F. R., Significance Of High Daily Intake Of Ascorbic Acid In Preventive Medicine, 1974 paper
  • Lendon H. Smith, MD (1988) Clinical Guide to the Use of Vitamin C - The Clinical Experiences of Frederick R. Klenner, MD [21]
  • William Kaufman (1943) Common Forms of Niacinamide Deficiency Disease: Aniacinamidosis. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
  • William Kaufman (1949) The Common Form of Joint Dysfunction: Its Incidence and Treatment. E.L. Hildreth and Co., Brattleboro, Vermont [22]
  • R. Altschul, A. Hoffer, J.D. Stephen, Arch. Biochem. Biophys., 54, 558, 1955.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Megavitamin_therapy". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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