Orthomolecular Medicine in the Treatment of Alcoholism
Orthomolecular medicine or treatment (often called megavitamin therapy) is based on the belief that insufficient intake of certain vitamins, minerals and other natural substances in the body causes specific diseases and conditions. The practitioner seeks to determine the exact deficiencies suffered by each patient.
Orthomolecular therapy consists of administering what are ordinarily considered extremely high doses of the deficiencies diagnosed over a long period of time. The theory is that many diseases are caused by molecular imbalances that are correctable by administration of enough nutrient molecules. The belief is that if a little is good, then more is better.
However, a basic principle of pharmacology is that "The dose makes the poison." All substances, including water, oxygen, and vitamins, can be toxic at levels that are too high. If doses of any vitamin are too high, they become harmful poisons.
Orthomolecular therapy became highly visible in 1970 when Linus Pauling popularized the controversial and still unsupported idea that megadoses of vitamin C were effective in treating the common cold. He also suggested that megadoses of specific vitamins and minerals might be effective in the treatment of certain mental illnesses. Over time, he expanded the list of diseases he believed could be treated with massive doses an expanding list of vitamins and minerals.
Orthomolecular therapy has been promoted by Pauling and others as a treatment for AIDS, alcoholism, allergies, anxiety, arthritis, autism, behavioral disorders (including criminal behavior), cancer, cardiovascular disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, depression, drug abuse, epilepsy, hyperactivity, hypertension, hypoglycemia, learning disabilities, migraine headaches, mental retardation, metabolic disorders, schizophrenia, skin problems, and other medical issues.
Panels of leading scientists have examined the research on various diseases/conditions and found the claims of megavitamin therapy to be unsupported by the evidence. The National Library of Medicine does not index the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine on its MEDLINE system and Quackwatch has listed it as a non-recommended journal.
The most commonly used megavitamin therapy for alcohol problems involves niacin (also called nicotinic acid, vitamin B3, and vitamin PP). Niacin megadosing can cause flushing, itching and liver damage. Therefore, those who use this therapy should have their liver functioning monitored carefully by a physician. Damage to liver cells (hepatotoxicity) and jaundice can occur in less than three months with intakes as low as 750 mg per day. Because it is generally better tolerated than niacin, nicotinamide is sometimes used. However, nausea, vomiting, and liver toxicity can occur at doses as low as 3 grams per day.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) co-founder Bill Wilson promoted the use of both niacin therapy and LSD therapy as early as the 1930s. However, 90 years later there is still no scientific medical evidence that orthomolecular therapy is effective for treating any disease or condition. On the other hand, there is extensive evidence that this often very expensive therapy can cause serious harm.
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- Hoffer, Abram, and Saul, Andrew W. The Vitamin Cure for Alcoholism: How to Protect Against and Fight Alcoholism Using Nutrition and Vitamin Supplementation. North Bergen, NJ : Basic Health Publications, 2013.
- Pauling, Linus, and Huemer, Richard P. The Roots of Molecular Medicine: A Tribute to Linus Pauling. NY: W.H. Freeman, 1986.
- Hoffer, Abram, and Saul, Andrew W. Orthomolecular Medicine for Everyone: Megavitamin Therapeutics for Families and Physicians. North Bergen, NJ : Basic Health Publications, 2013.
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