ABRAM HOFFER, MD, PhD: 50
YEARS OF MEGAVITAMIN THERAPY
A riddle: how many years does it take for a truly new way of treating
disease to be generally accepted? The answer is forty, according to Abram
Hoffer, M.D, Ph.D. There are few physicians who have sufficient experience
to personally validate such a claim, but Dr. Hoffer can. He pioneered
megavitamin research and treatment back in the early 1950's, and, half a
century later, he has still been largely ignored by the medical profession.
Why? Because Dr. Hoffer treats with vitamins. And, he gets results.
Dr. Hoffer, now a lively 84 years of age, still maintains an active practice
on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He has written 20 books and over 500
scientific articles that contain more than enough information to set the
medical profession on its ear. His work forms the most elegant explanation
of orthomolecular (megavitamin) medicine since Dr. Linus Pauling's historic
1968 paper in Science. In fact, Hoffer had a 17-year jump on Pauling;
vitamin B-3 (niacin, or niacinamide) to treat behavioral disorders was first
used by Hoffer and colleague Dr. Humphry Osmond in 1951. Happy Fiftieth
Why on earth should acceptance take so long ? After all, if megavitamin
treatment is so good, how come your doctor doesn't use it? How come it is
not on the news? The answer may have more to do with medical politics than
with medical science. Consider Hoffer's views on Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder: "The DSM system (the standard of the American
Psychiatric Association) has little or no relevance to diagnosis. It has no
relevance to treatment, either, because no matter which terms are used to
classify these children, they are all recommended for treatment with drug
therapy" combined, sometimes, with other non-megavitamin approaches. "If the
entire diagnostic scheme were scrapped today, it would make almost no
difference to the way these children were treated, or to the outcome of
treatment. Nor would their patients feel any better or worse" (Dr. Hoffer's
ABC of Natural Nutrition for Children). Statements like these do not exactly
endear one to the medical community.
And, as if such critical statements are not enough, Dr. Hoffer then writes
book after book setting out genuine nutritional alternatives to drug
therapy. He provides vitamin dosage details, food tables, references, and
many, many case histories, numerous research summaries, precise
recommendations for optimum diet, comparisons of drugs and vitamins,
discussions of food additives, behavioral self-tests, and, most importantly,
a wealth of professional experience.
The best part of Dr. Hoffer's writing is that it offers practical, positive
advice. Criticisms and even lawsuits over the hazards of pharmaceuticals are
on the rise, but neither court nor controversy can cure. "Saying no to
drugs" also requires saying "yes" to something else. That something else is
nutrition, properly employed.
For those who say there is insufficient scientific evidence to support
megavitamin therapy, perhaps they haven't been looking hard enough. Hoffer
and his colleagues were first to employ vitamin C as an antioxidant, use the
B-vitamins against heart disease, and prescribe niacin to treat behavioral
Half a century ago.
WHY THE DELAY IN ACCEPTANCE?
The United States Patent Office delayed issuing a patent on the Wright
brothers' airplane for five years because it broke accepted scientific
principles. This is actually true. And so is this: Vitamin B-3, niacin, is
scientifically proven to be effective against psychosis, and yet the medical
profession has delayed endorsing it. Not for five years, but for nearly
This may be a puzzler, but isn't the bottom line. This is: The simple way to
determine whether vitamins will help is to try them. We are all fortunate to
have available to us invaluable guidance from the foremost authority on the
In 1951, Abram Hoffer had just completed his psychiatry residency. What's
more, he had proven, with the very first double-blind, placebo-controlled
studies in the history of psychiatry, that vitamin B-3 could cure
schizophrenia. You would think that psychiatrists everywhere would have
beaten down a path to Saskatchewan to replicate his findings.
You'd think so.
In modern psychiatry, niacin and schizophrenia are both terms that have been
closeted away out of sight. And patients, tranquilized into submission or
Prozac-ed into La-La Land, are often idly at home or wandering the streets,
where either way it is highly doubtful that they will get much in the way of
a daily vitamin intake. Those in institutions fare little better
nutritionally. For everyone "knows" that vitamins do not cure "real"
But Dr. Hoffer dissents. For half a century Dr. Hoffer has dissented. His
central point has been this: Illness, including mental illness, is not
caused by drug deficiency. But much illness, especially mental illness, may
be seen to be caused by a vitamin deficiency. This makes sense, and has
stood up to clinical trial again and again. If you do not believe this, Dr.
Hoffer's book Vitamin B-3 and Schizophrenia will provide you with the
references to prove it.
We've all been carefully taught that drugs cure illness, not diet. And
certainly not vitamin supplements!
But the truth will out eventually, and nothing succeeds like success. Ask
the patients who have recovered, like Jim.
SCHIZOPHRENIA AND NUTRITION
Jim had been totally unmanageable. At 21, he'd already been kicked out of
the State Hospital for being too violent. So they sent him home to his
parents, whom he threatened on a daily basis while punching holes in the
living room walls. Jim slept one hour per night, and roamed the streets for
the other seven. His face was scaly and severely broken out with acne. His
dietary and digestive habits were appalling, and he appeared to be, to quote
Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson, just plain nuts.
So there they were, three feet away from me: a psycho with two terrified
parents. Medical science had not helped him, and had, ironically, discharged
him in the face of its own impotence. So I told the family about Dr.
Hoffer's approach: take very large quantities of niacin, starting at three
thousand milligrams, plus an equal or larger amount of vitamin C.
And why exactly would this work?
Advanced niacin deficiency, or pellagra, actually causes psychosis, as well
as the skin and gastrointestinal problems that Jim was experiencing. He
needed more niacin than the average person, and probably a lot more. At
really large doses, niacin has a profound calming, sedating effect. Yet it
is not a drug, but a nutrient. The safety margin is huge. Dr. Hoffer has
prescribed as much as 20,000 milligrams a day. Therefore 3,000 milligrams is
actually not a particularly high dose.
About two weeks later, Jim's father called. "Let me tell you what happened,"
he began. "You know Jim only sleeps maybe an hour a night? Well, the first
night on the niacin, he slept 18 hours. He's been sleeping about 7 hours a
"That's terrific," I said.
"That's not all," he said. "Last Friday morning, for the first time in I
don't know how many years, Jim came down for breakfast. He walked into the
dining room and said 'Good morning, Dad.'"
Even on the phone I could hear the tears in the man's voice. It was
And niacin is cheap, non-prescription and easy to monitor: if you flush, you
took too much. Still sick, you took too little. No flush and no psychosis
means you did it right.
Odd, really, that with a medical mood favoring medication over analysis,
that Abram Hoffer's niacin protocol is so unappreciated. After all, why NOT
use vitamins? They are far safer than pharmaceuticals. Yet a fundamental
bias in both medicine and dietetics rises darkly from the swamp when you
even hint of a therapeutic validity for megavitamin doses. Why such
resistance to such a useful nutritional tool? Is it perhaps because niacin
therapy is really, really cheap? Or is it because it is hard to see
psychotic behavior as a nutritional deficiency?
"Pellagra" is the classic niacin deficiency disease. It was once common in
the rural South where the poor had little else to eat except tryptophan-poor
foods like milled corn. The symptoms are the "Three D's": diarrhea,
dermatitis, and dementia. More specific pellagra symptoms include weakness,
anorexia, lassitude, indigestion, skin eruptions, skin scaling, neuritis,
nervous system destruction, confusion, apathy, disorientation, and insanity.
Does this sound a bit like schizophrenia to you?
But the success, convenience and relentless advertising of new so-called
"wonder drugs" diminished niacin's popularity. Then, the American
Psychiatric Association unscientifically trashed megavitamin therapy in
1973. So now we have growing legions of nutritionally challenged,
mentally-malnourished Americans who don't know, or care, that they are
malnourished. For they are happily (and legally, and profitably) drugged
into a mood-altered wonder land, aptly termed a "pharmacological lobotomy"
by fully-recovered former Dr. Hoffer patient Margot Kidder. (She'll tell you
her story herself at
http://www.margotkidder.com ) It is disquieting to see an arsenal of
"Mother's Little Helper" psychotropic pharmaceuticals are used by millions
daily, even while so many doctors and dieticians condemn megavitamin
therapeutics out of hand.
The many negative side effects and dangers of these drugs are now restoring
interest in niacin. Even trendy "somas du jour," such as Paxil and Prozac,
have serious failings. A quick read in the Physicians' Desk Reference (or
"PDR.," available at any library) will illustrate this.
Psychosis is not caused by drug deficiency, but rather by a functional
nutritional deficiency. There is a chemical found in quantity in the bodies
of schizophrenic persons. It is an indole called adrenochrome. Adrenochrome
(which is oxidized adrenalin) has an almost mescaline-like effect on the
body. That might well explain their behavior. Niacin serves to reduce the
body's production of this toxic material. It takes a lot of niacin to do the
Dr. Hoffer says: "Dr. Humprhry Osmond, John Smythies and I originated the
adrenochrome hypothesis in 1954. We are delighted that (after some 45 years)
this hypothesis which has been so fruitful in directing research, which was
one of the roots of orthomolecular medicine, is at last receiving serious
examination in the establishment literature. It is likely that over the next
decade there will be a major explosion of interest into adrenochrome and
similar oxidized derivatives of the catechol amines."
IS THERE A DOWN SIDE?
Niacin toxicity does exist, but is rare. Dr. Hoffer found that even 40,000
mg daily is not toxic but estimated that over 200,000 mg/day is fatal. The
most psychotic person you are ever likely to meet could probably not hold
more than 10,000 mg/day, and most of us would never exceed 1,000 mg daily.
Medical physicians frequently give patients 2,000 to 5,000 milligrams of
niacin to lower serum cholesterol. The safety margin is large. There is not
even one death from niacin per year. Check CDC or Poison Control Center
statistics, the Merck Manual, and the PDR and see. Side effects of niacin
therapy include flushing, skin itching, and, upon large overdose, nausea.
Such symptoms vary with dose, the body's need, and volume of food, water, or
soluble fiber consumed.
"Negative side effects are easily dealt with by physicians who know niacin,"
Dr. Hoffer told me. "In most cases they are minor irritants. Some of the
side effects may be minimized with vitamin C. The positive side effects,
such as increased general health, improved healing, and prolongation of high
quality life, are all benefits. In sharp contrast, very few drugs have
positive side effects."
So it is a lack of niacin that is the real public health problem. The US RDA
is only about 20 mg, and bodily need for niacin varies with activity, body
size and illness, according to Williams, Nutrition and Diet Therapy (6th ed,
p 239). About half of all Americans will not get even that much from their
diets. Niacin's special importance is indicated in that the US RDA for
niacin is twenty or more times higher than the RDA for other B-vitamins, and
that's just for everyday, healthy people.
CANCER AND NUTRITION
Dr. Hoffer's clinical megavitamin research has included work with over one
thousand cancer patients. Those taking large quantities of vitamins achieved
significantly longer life, and vastly improved quality of life. I cannot
imagine a more important and uplifting news for the family of a cancer
Not everyone agrees with this.
Certain politically powerful medical authorities have openly discouraged
cancer patients from taking large doses of vitamin C. It is unethical for
any doctor to deny therapy that might be of value to her patient. Still, the
number of cancer patients who have ever had their doctor recommend a
therapeutic trial of large quantities of vitamin C remains small. I predict
that there will eventually be a class-action lawsuit brought against
orthodox medicine by patients who were wrongly kept from supportive
high-dose vitamin therapy.
The grounds for disparaging vitamin C usually center on three inaccurate
claims: 1) vitamin C is ineffective against cancer; 2) vitamin C interferes
with conventional cancer therapies; and 3) vitamin C is in itself harmful to
the cancer patient.
Hoffer refutes each of these fallacious views with the authority of 50 years
of medical research and medical practice behind him. So let's let him set
the record straight:
1) There are many controlled studies that demonstrate that vitamin C is
indeed effective against cancer. These studies are discussed in Hoffer's
book Vitamin C and Cancer. Some of the most interesting studies were done in
Japan, using over 30,000 mg of vitamin C a day. Extensive clinical reports
from orthomolecular (megavitamin) physicians, such as Robert F. Cathcart
( http://www.orthomed.com ), indicate that higher quantities of vitamin C
are even more effective.
2) Vitamin C reduces the side-effects of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation
therapy. Patients on a strong nutritional program have far less nausea, and
often experience little or no hair loss during chemo. They experience
reduced pain and swelling following radiation. They have faster,
uncomplicated healing after surgery. Such vitamin-mediated benefits mean
that oncologists can give vitamin-taking patients the full dose of
chemotherapy, rather than having to cut the dose to keep the patient from
giving up entirely. Obviously, full-strength chemo is more likely to be
effective against cancer than reduced-strength chemo. A similar benefit is
at work with radiation therapy: the full intensity of treatment is far
better tolerated by an optimally-nourished patient. With surgery, the risk
reduction aspects of vitamins, both pre- and post-op, are well established.
Therefore, vitamin C, far from being detrimental, makes a most positive
contribution to the conventional treatment of cancer.
3) Even at very high doses, Vitamin C is an unusually safe substance;
countless studies have verified this. As an antioxidant, collagen-building
co-enzyme, and reinforcer of the immune system, vitamin C is vital to a
cancer patient. Yet the blood work of cancer patients will invariably show
that they have abnormally low levels of the vitamin. What is dangerous is
Fortunately there are physicians like Dr. Hoffer who still look to the
patient, and not the test tube, for their answers. A patient's therapeutic
response is the highest of all guiding principles in medicine. If it works,
do it. If it seems to work, do it. If it does no harm, do it. Remember: If
there were a sure cure for cancer, you would have heard about it. There
isn't. But this just makes it all the more important for patients to demand
adjunctive vitamin therapy from their physicians. The number of
conventionally-educated, hospital trained doctors that support vitamin C
therapy is growing. Hoffer was among the first. Your family doctor could be
But rather than wait, I would go so far as to advise reading everything Dr.
Hoffer has ever written. The following would be a great start:
Vitamin B-3 and Schizophrenia: Discovery, Recovery, Controversy
by Abram Hoffer, MD (1998) Quarry Press, Kingston, Ontario Canada ISBN
1-55082-079-6 Softcover, 150 pages plus bibliography and two appendices.
Vitamin C and Cancer: Discovery, Recovery, Controversy
by Abram Hoffer, MD, PhD, with Linus Pauling (1999) Quarry Press, Kingston,
Ontario ISBN 1-55082-078-8 Softcover, 180 pp plus bibliography and 74 pp
Dr. Hoffer's ABC of Natural Nutrition for Children
by Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D (1999) Quarry Press, Kingston, Ontario ISBN
1-55082-185-7 (Softcover, 280 pages plus tables and bibliography)
Abram Hoffer's complete nutrition bibliography of books and journal articles
is posted at
http://www.islandnet.com/~hoffer/ is Dr. Hoffer's cancer information home
http://www.islandnet.com/~hoffer/hofferhp.htm is Dr. Hoffer's schizophrenia
information home page.
http://www.orthomed.org has information and posted articles from the Journal
of Orthomolecular Medicine, of which Dr. Hoffer is editor-in-chief.
You can also read articles of his at
and reviews of his books at
ACT NOW TO MAKE VITAMIN PURCHASES TAX EXEMPT
John Hammell ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) at IAHF writes: "Please call your Senators
and ask them to cosponsor S 1330 IS, the Dietary Supplement Tax Fairness Act
of 2001. This bill was introduced by Senators Hatch and Harkin on August 2,
and would provide for the IRS to allow tax exempt status for any dietary
supplements that you buy so you can write them off just like medications.
Please therefor call your Senators today via the Capital Switchboard at
202-225-3121 and if you aren't sure of the name of your Senators give them
your zip code and they can look them up. All you have to say to the person
who answers is that you are a constituent and that you would like for the
Senator to Cosponsor S 1330 IS: Dietary Supplement Tax Fairness Act of 2001
because you would like to write off all expenses for vitamins.
OUR ACCESS TO VITAMINS SHOULD NOT BE RESTRICTED
More from John Hammell: "Also, please call your Congressman and ask him to
cosponsor Foods Are Not Drugs Act of 2001 HR 2265 IH. It only has four
cosponsors to date and the bill needs many, many more to pass.
"Please help! Contact your Congressman via that same Capital Switchboard
number (202-225-3121). Tell them you want him or her to cosponsor HR 2265
IH, The Foods are Not Drugs Act, because present law allows the FDA far too
much leeway to ban safe products through restrictive United Nations CODEX
Vitamin Standards currently under development."
(Editor's Note: For easy letter-writing hints and email links to the Senate,
please look at
http://www.doctoryourself.com/write_now.html More information on CODEX is p
osted in the Doctor Yourself NEWSLETTER Vol 1, #4 Dec. 22, 2000, which you
can read at
http://www.doctoryourself.com/backissues.html . You will also want to check
http://www.iahf.com for greatly expanded coverage of this important
COMING NEXT ISSUE:
"Are those beaks coming up in my garden?" Or: Why Chicken is in the "Meat"
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Chemo, Radiation, Vitamins
Why Rice is Nice
Doctors' Strikes: No Worries
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