Over the years, I have interviewed, gotten to know, and in some cases become friends with many of the thought leaders in health care, particularly in areas of innovative alternative medicine. These individuals have ranged from Nobel Prize winners to traditional grassroots healers. One of the most impressive was Dr. Linus Pauling.
Linus Pauling, Ph.D., was widely acknowledged as one of the most brilliant scientists of the 20th Century. He was right up there with the likes of Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi. In fact, the respected British publication The New Scientist included Pauling on its list of the 20 greatest scientists of all time along with Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, and Einstein.
Pauling’s work in physics and chemistry revolutionized the modern understanding of those fields. His writings on the nature of the chemical bond – in scientific articles and in book form – are classics. Pauling’s obituary in The Independent on August 20, 1994 notes, “His pioneering work in chemistry in the 1920s and 1930s on the structure of molecules established him as a giant of contemporary science.”
In the 1960s, when he was in his sixties, Pauling renewed his interest in medicine, in particular the health promoting value of vitamin C. After doing considerable research and literature reviews on the subject, Pauling authored several best-selling and very influential books, including Vitamin C and the Common Cold and Vitamin C and Cancer. In 1968 he founded and named the emerging field of orthomolecular medicine, which holds that nutrition and high doses of vitamins in optimum amounts have a significant role in health promotion, prevention, and treatment. An excellent communicator, Pauling was a frequent guest on leading television talk shows of the time and is credited with making vitamin C the most popular and best-selling nutritional supplement.
Pauling is the only person to win two un-shared Nobel prizes, for chemistry in 1954 and peace in 1962. Despite his unassailable reputation and accomplishments, the minute he began to promote research and investigation into vitamin C and other nutrients, he became a magnet for criticism which continued until his death in 1994 at age 93.
I first met Pauling in July 1980 when I went to interview him at his office at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine in Menlo Park, California. It was an extremely memorable encounter as I got to take the measure of this amazing man – an archetype and icon of the modern scientific genius. To my surprise, I was struck that first time, and during our subsequent encounters, by not only his intelligence but his down-to-earth accessibility, inexhaustible energy, positive outlook, and good humor.
Over the next fourteen years, I interviewed Pauling, both in person and on the telephone, about a dozen times – on many of those occasions at considerable length. Twice I was invited to visit him at his remote Deer Flat Ranch in Big Sur, California, where he did a lot of his thinking and writing. These encounters were especially memorable, not least because of the dramatic setting of his house, right on the edge of the Pacific Ocean at one of the most unspoiled and beautiful spots on the Pacific coast.
According to Pauling, his high-profile involvement in unpopular political controversies of the 1950s and ‘60s (including organizing the successful international campaign to ban nuclear bomb testing, for which he was awarded the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize) prepared him for the equally rancorous debates of the 1970s and ‘80s when he became the de facto leader of the emerging field of nutritional medicine at a time when mainstream medicine denigrated such pursuits. During the last two decades of his life, Pauling’s focus on the scientific basis of nutrition and his unstinting advocacy of megavitamin supplements regularly made him the center of controversy.
The last time I interviewed Pauling turned out to be the final interview he gave before he passed away on August 19, 1994. The occasion of that last interview, on April 9, 1994, was a live radio talk program I was hosting in San Diego. Pauling came on the show for an hour by phone from Big Sur. Although ill and confined to his seaside home, Pauling rose to the occasion of the live broadcast and was his usual articulate, upbeat, and engaging self – and as always he spoke with clarity and insight as he replied thoughtfully to my questions.
Below is the complete transcript of my final meeting with a remarkable man – Linus Pauling, Ph.D. – as it was broadcast live on KCEO AM 1400 on Saturday morning, April 9, 1994.
– © Peter Barry Chowka / All Rights Reserved
PETER BARRY CHOWKA: Dr. Pauling, could you summarize the role that vitamin C plays in human health and its importance to the health of the nation as a whole?
LINUS PAULING, Ph.D.: Vitamin C – ascorbic acid or sodium ascorbate or calcium ascorbate – is involved in a great number of biochemical reactions in the human body. Two of its major interactions are in potentiating the immune system and aiding the synthesis of the protein collagen, which is a very important substance that holds together the human body. Collagen strengthens the blood vessels, the skin, the muscles and the bones. You can’t make collagen without using up vitamin C.
One piece of evidence that made quite an impression on me 20 years ago was when Irwin Stone, Ph.D., pointed out that most animals, except humans, monkeys and apes, manufacture vitamin C.1 They don’t rely on vitamin pills or on foods –they make vitamin C in their liver in amounts proportional to body weight. For an adult man the proportion turns out to be on the average about 10 or 12 grams (12,000 mg) a day. That’s 200 times the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) – 200 times the amount people get in an ordinary diet! This is why I think we should be getting 200 times the amount of vitamin C that the Food and Nutrition Board recommends. The RDA, 60 mg, is far too small and indicates the importance of taking vitamin C supplements.
CHOWKA: Over the past two decades you’ve studied cancer patients who have been treated with high doses of vitamin C. Recently, you’ve published several papers with Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D., on the treatment of cancer with vitamin C.2, The results seem very promising.
PAULING: Oh, yes! I became interested in vitamin C and cancer in 1971 and began working with Ewan Cameron, M.B., Ch.B., chief surgeon at Vale of Leven Hospital in Scotland. Cameron gave 10 grams of vitamin C a day to patients with untreatable, terminal cancer.4 These patients were then compared by Cameron and me to patients with the same kind of cancer at the same terminal stage who were being treated in the same hospital but by other doctors – doctors who didn’t give vitamin C, but instead just gave conventional treatments.
Cameron’s terminal cancer patients lived far longer compared to the ones who didn’t get 10 grams a day of vitamin C. The other patients lived an average of six months after they were pronounced terminal, while Cameron’s patients lived an average of about six years.
More recently I’ve been collaborating with Hoffer, a physician in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Hoffer has treated 300 cancer patients5 and has recommended to all of them essentially the same treatment [as Cameron]. But about a quarter or a third of the patients didn’t follow the treatment for one reason or another: The family doctor might have said that those high doses of vitamins would kill them, or the patient might have had a stomach upset and not wanted to continue taking the vitamins.
The terminal cancer patients who didn’t follow Hoffer’s regimen had a survival time of only about six months. But the ones who followed Hoffer’s therapy have done even better than Cameron’s patients. On the average they lived about 12 years after being pronounced terminal with untreatable cancer.
Hoffer’s regimen includes 12 grams of vitamin C per day, about the same as Cameron’s. But it also includes significant amounts of other nutrients: 800 units of vitamin E, 1,000 or 2,000 mg of niacin, large amounts of the other B vitamins and vitamin A in the form of beta carotene. Apparently the other vitamins cooperate with the vitamin C to give even greater control over cancer.
For some time Cameron and I said that every patient with cancer, beginning as soon in the course of the disease as possible, should be taking 10 grams of vitamin C as an adjunct to appropriate conventional therapy. I now say along with Hoffer that every patient with cancer, beginning as early in the course of the disease as possible, should be taking 10, 12 or even more grams of vitamin C, 800 units of vitamin E, large amounts of the other vitamins and 200 mcg per day of selenium. I think that Hoffer’s regimen is the one that cancer patients should follow – again as an adjunct to appropriate conventional therapy, where “appropriate” means conventional therapy that has been shown to have value for patients with the same kind of cancer.
CHOWKA: Do you see any progress in the conventional war on cancer?
PAULING: Oh, I think so. But it’ll be due to vitamins rather than to drugs. Yes, indeed.
CHOWKA: So you see progress in the potential for vitamins and antioxidants and not so much in the conventional kinds of cancer treatments that we’ve seen to this point?
PAULING: Not in looking for wonder drugs, no. And, of course, I feel strongly that vitamin C and another orthomolecular substance, lysine, will provide far greater control of cardiovascular diseases than we’ll be able to get over cancer. I’m very hopeful about the heart disease problem.
CHOWKA: You’ve recently published several papers on nutrition and cardiovascular disease.6,7
PAULING: The papers contain a simple argument. I have trouble understanding why somebody interested in heart disease didn’t think of it 20 or 30 years ago when it was accepted by cardiologists that the primary cause of atherosclerosis and heart disease is a lesion in the wall of an artery in a region of stress. So I asked myself two or three years ago, “why should there be a lesion in the wall of the artery?” Animals don’t have these lesions in regions of stress. Well, you have the lesions because arteries are weak.
Why are they weak? Ordinarily, animals’ arteries are strengthened by the deposit of collagen. And you can’t make collagen without using up vitamin C. Humans don’t get enough vitamin C, so their arteries are weak. And then a lesion forms, followed by the other stages of developing heart disease. Therefore, deficient intake of vitamin C is a primary cause of cardiovascular disease.
CHOWKA: Could we assume then that the decreasing incidence of circulatory disease in this country is due to the fact that Americans are taking more supplemental vitamins, particularly vitamin C?
PAULING: Oh, yes. In 1979, Emil Ginter, Ph.D., published a letter to the editor saying that there’s a parallelism between the decreased mortality from cardiovascular disease and the increased intake of vitamin C in the United States.8
CHOWKA: For many years you and your colleagues faced an uphill battle with the medical powers-that-be in terms of your inability to get a fair hearing for your ideas about vitamin C and for nutritional medicine in general. Has that situation changed?
PAULING: Oh I think it has been changing. Scientists have tended to follow my recommendations, but I’ve had more trouble with the medical establishment – they seem to me to be biased, not to have an open mind with respect to information that becomes available about vitamins and other nutrients in relation to cancer and other diseases.
Recently, in the last year or so, part of my effort has been to counteract a strange stance on the part of the medical establishment: They have now accepted the fact that antioxidants taken in foods cut down on the incidence of cancer. But in their books and articles they still say “but don’t take vitamin supplements.” This is completely illogical from my point of view. They don’t give any arguments at all to support the statement. A paper by James Enstrom, Ph.D., and his associates shows how valuable even a little extra vitamin C in the form of a supplement is.9
CHOWKA: Your comments about the medical establishment suggest another question. In 1982 you said that, in your view, it was the American public that was primarily responsible for the changing face of modern medicine, especially for most of the progressive momentum.10 Is that still your view today?
PAULING: Oh yes! I think that the public as a whole responded better to the statements that Cameron and I or Hoffer and I were making than the medical establishment. Ten years ago people were telling me, “I told my doctor I was taking a gram of vitamin C per day or three grams of vitamin C per day and he said ‘You mustn’t do that, that’ll kill you, those vitamins are poisonous.’” Five years ago people began reporting to me, “I told the doctor I was taking several grams of vitamin C per day and he said, ‘Well, that won’t hurt you. Go ahead if you want to. It probably won’t do any good. But if you want to take it, go ahead.’”
Today, of course, doctors are apt to say “That’s fine, perhaps it is doing good for you,” especially when the patient shows up in much better shape than the doctor had expected and says, “I think the reason is high doses of vitamin C and vitamin E and so on that I’ve been taking.” Doctors tend to agree with that point of view now. I don’t know to what extent doctors take the initiative in prescribing vitamins for their seriously ill patients. But I think many of them are at least open to it now.
CHOWKA: What’s going on lately at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine in Palo Alto, Calif., which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary?
PAULING: The investigators there work on various problems, particularly ones involving vitamin C and other vitamins in relation to disease or, in some cases, just the basic chemistry of the vitamins. One observation they made about three years ago during test tube research is that HIV, the virus that’s involved with AIDS, was controlled by moderately high concentrations of vitamin C – concentrations you can get into the bloodstream by taking 10 or 20 grams of vitamin C per day. This discovery has attracted the attention of AIDS researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and they have set up a test to determine the effectiveness of high doses of vitamin C in controlling AIDS or HIV infection.
CHOWKA: Dr. Pauling, there are a number of other pioneers of innovative science and medicine of this century like the late Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, M.D., Ph.D., who discovered vitamin C. Unfortunately, it appears that many people today aren’t as aware as they might be of the contributions of scientists like Szent-Gyorgyi and yourself. I’d like to ask you, then, how you would like to be thought of and remembered, especially by younger Americans?
PAULING: Well, this is a complicated question and difficult for me to answer. I think it’s likely that the future generations will think of me as the “vitamin C man.” And of course I don’t think of myself in that way. For 20 years I’ve just been repeating statements that Stone, and to some extent Szent-Gyorgyi himself, had made about the great value of high doses of vitamin C and other vitamins. But Szent-Gyorgyi, who discovered vitamin C and first isolated it in 1927, was not a very vigorous advocate of megavitamins. Hoffer and Humphrey Osmond, M.D., much later became the principal advocates of high doses of vitamin C and niacin for schizophrenic patients – doses that were 500 or 1,000 times as great as the RDA.10 And I was much impressed by what Hoffer and Osmond wrote, as well as by Stone’s analysis of the situation with respect to vitamin C.
CHOWKA: Are you optimistic about the future?
PAULING: Oh, well, yes! I’m apparently optimistic by nature. I’ve been optimistic about controlling nuclear war, optimistic about better relations between the Soviet Union and the United States and optimistic also about orthomolecular medicine. Many people are convinced now that orthomolecular medicine is the medicine of the future. So yes, I am optimistic. END
1. Stone, I. Vitamin C: The Healing Factor Against Disease. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1972.
2. Hoffer, A., & Pauling, L. Jnl Orthomolecular Med, 5: 143-154, 1990.
3. Hoffer, A., & Pauling, L. Jnl Orthomolecular Med, 8: 157-167, 1993.
4. Cameron, E., & Pauling, L. Op cit.
5. “Since then,” Hoffer writes, “my series has expanded to over 700 patients, and the data we first reported shows the same beneficial response,” Personal communication, Feb. 7, 1996.
6. Rath, M., & Pauling, L. Jnl Orthomolecular Med, 6: 125-134, 1991.
7. Rath, M., & Pauling, L. Jnl Orthomolecular Med, 7: 5-15, 1992.
8. Ginter, E. Am Jnl Clin Nutr, 32: 511, 1979.
9. Enstrom, J.E., Kanin, L.E., & Klein, M.A. Epidem, 3: 194-202, 1992.
10. Chowka, P.B. New Age, 8: 36-39, December 1982.
11. Osmond, H., & Hoffer, A. Lancet, 1: 316-319, 1962.
Peter Chowka has reported on health care, with an emphasis on alternative medicine, since 1972. Between 1992 and 1994 he was an adviser to the National Institutes of Health. His new website is AltMedNews.net.