Vitamin Therapy, Megadose / Orthomolecular Therapy
Megavitamin and orthomolecular therapies are unproven (?)methods considered dangerous (?) by mainstream scientists. "Scientific research has found no benefit from orthomolecular therapy for any disease." (Cassileth)
"Patients suspected of having a poor nutritional status should have their diet evaluated by a dietician, physician, or nurse." (Yamanaka)
SEE ALSO sections under Vitamins A, C, D, E, and Beta Carotene.
Description / Source / Components
"Megavitamin therapy involves the intake of very high doses of vitamins. A megadose is an intake of 20 to 600 times the recommended daily allowance." (Ontario) (Loescher)
Megadose vitamin therapy is believed to have started in the early 1950s when "a few psychiatrists began adding massive doses of nutrients to their treatment of severe mental problems." (Hafner)
"In 1968, the Nobel-prize-winning scientist Linus Pauling coined the term "orthomolecular" to describe the treatment of disease with large quantities of nutrients." (Cassileth)
"The early 1970s witnessed the popularization of vitamin 'megadoses', usually at intakes of 20 to 600 times the Recommended Daily Allowance, . . . because these substances can be obtained over the counter, the practice of megadosing is now extensive." (Rudman)
"Vitamins were discovered decades ago but only recently have they been used as advanced cancer treatments. ...Vitamins in megadoses that are self-prescribed or administered as potentially beneficial anticancer treatments, however, should not be considered harmless." (Loescher)
Professional Evaluation / Critique - Use in Preventing Cancer
"Recent observations by several research groups on many thousands of women have yielded the disappointing view that mega-dose vitamin supplementation does not provide significant protection against breast cancer." (Rose)
Proponent / Advocate Claims - Use in Treating Cancer
"Megadose vitamins A, B6, C and E plus zinc decrease bladder tumor recurrence in patients receiving BCG immunotherapy. ...Overall recurrence was 24 out of 30 patients (80%) in Recommended Daily Allowance arm and 14 out of 35 (40%) in the high dose arm." (Lamm)
Professional Evaluation / Critique - Use in Treating Cancer
"The distinction between using vitamins as unproven methods of cancer management and as scientifically based cancer treatment must be made." (Loescher)
"Although megadoses of some vitamins can cause serious toxic effects, an even more serious problem is that patients with major, treatable diseases may turn to megavitamin therapy instead of mainstream care. This was shown in a recent television documentary, in which a young woman with treatable breast cancer rejected surgery to remove the tumor in favor of megadoses of vitamins." (Cassileth)
"When vitamins are consumed in excess of the body's physiological needs, they function as drugs rather than vitamins because the human body has limited capacity to use vitamins in its metabolic activities." (Hafner)
The evidence supporting claims that megadoses of vitamins can cure cancer and many other ailments is unreliable because it is based on inadequate investigations, anecdotes or testimonials. (Herbert)
The claims of Linus Pauling, that massive doses of vitamin C could cure cancer, were disproved in three clinical trials conducted at the Mayo Clinic. (Cassileth)
Toxicity / Risks
High doses of some vitamins are toxic hence supplements are generally not recommended unless recommended by a physician. (Hislop)
"Because vitamins in large doses may have drug like effects, they could compromise the effectiveness of standard medical treatment in the same way that taking two different drugs might." (McDonald)
"Pregnant women or those planning to become pregnant should not use megavitamin therapy. Congenital abnormalities and spontaneous abortions may occur." (Ontario) (Loescher)
"Megadose vitamin therapy may cause injury that is confused with disease symptom. High vitamin intake is more hazardous to peripheral organs than to the nervous system, because the central nervous system vitamin entry is restricted." (Snodgrass)
"Large doses of thiamine had been known for years to have neurological effects in animals." (Snodgrass)
Vitamin K: "Large amounts of vitamin K in pregnancy can cause jaundice in the newborn. Dietary supplements high in vitamin K can block the effects of oral anticoagulants." (Medical Letter)
Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6): Individuals taking several grams daily for prolonged periods developed severe peripheral neuropathies. Others developed ataxia (failure of muscular coordination), numbness around the mouth, and numbness and clumsiness of the hands and feet. Neurological examination showed profound loss of position and vibration sense in their distal limbs, with severe impairment of the senses of pain, temperature, pinprick, and touch, and loss of limb reflexes. (Medical Letter) (Berger) (Schaumburg)
Niacin (Nicotinic Acid): Niacin causes release of histamine, which in turn can cause severe flushing, itching, and gastrointestinal disturbances. In one trial, three grams of niacin daily increased serum uric acid (leading to gouty arthritis) and fasting blood glucose concentrations.
Large doses of niacin can cause liver toxicity; increased aminotransferase activity occurs frequently, and cholestatic jaundice that disappeared when the vitamin was discontinued has been reported with as little as 750 mg [milligrams] daily taken for less than three months. (Medical Letter)
Berger A, Schaumburg HH. More on neuropathy from pyridoxine abuse. New Engl J Med 1984;311(15):986-987.
Cassileth BR. Alternative medicine handbook: the complete reference guide to alternative and complementary therapies. New York: W.W.Norton & Co., 1998:67.
Hafner AW, editor. Reader's guide to alternative health methods. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: American Medical Association, 1993:180-184.
Herbert V. Vitamins and "health" foods: the great American hustle. Philadelphia: George F. Stickley, 1981.
Hislop G. Memorandum on diet and cancer. Vancouver: BC Cancer Agency Cancer Information Centre, 1985. (BCCA Cancer Information Centre Search File 231)
Lamm DL, et al. Megadose vitamins in bladder cancer: a double-blind clinical trial. Journal of Urology 1994 Jan;151:21-26.
Loescher LJ, Sauer KA. Vitamin therapy for advanced cancers. Oncology Nurse Forum 1984 Nov/Dec;11(6):38-45.
McDonald A, et al. Complete book of vitamins and minerals. Publications International, Ltd., 1996;69-73.
Medical Letter (Anonymous). Toxic effects of vitamin overdosage. Medical Letter 1983;26 (667):72-74.
Ontario Breast Cancer Information Exchange Project. Guide to unconventional cancer therapies. 1st ed. Toronto: Ontario Breast Cancer Information Exchange Project, 1994:127.
Rose RC. Vitamin supplementation and breast cancer: is homeostasis a factor? Med Hypothesis 1998;51:239-42.
Rudman D, Williams PJ. Megadose vitamins: use and misuse. N Engl J Med 1983;309:488-490.
Schaumburg H, et al. Sensory neuropathy from pyridoxine abuse. N Engl J Med 1983;309(8):445-53.
Snodgrass SR. Vitamin neurotoxicity. Molecular neurobiology 1992;6(1):41-73.
Yamanaka WK. Vitamins and cancer prevention: how much do we know? Postgraduate Medicine 1987 Sept 1;82(3):149-151,153.
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