Q1. What is Orthomolecular Medicine?
Orthomolecular Medicine is a concept created by Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling in 1968.
Linus Pauling used high doses of vitamin C for the treatment of the common cold. Such high doses of vitamin C were later on also used by him for other illnesses. In 1968, he postulated that people’s needs for vitamins and other nutrients vary markedly and that to maintain good health, many people need amounts of nutrients much greater than the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs). He further postulated that megadoses of certain vitamins and minerals are the treatment of choice for some forms of mental illness. For this science, he coined the term “orthomolecular,” meaning “right molecule.” After that, he steadily expanded the list of illnesses that could be influenced by “orthomolecular” therapy and the number of nutrients suitable for such use. Thus the science of Orthomolecular Medicine was born. Read Gonzalez MJ, Miranda-Massari JR, Metabolic Correction: A Functional Explanation of Orthomolecular Medicine by Gonzalez MJ, Miranda-Massari JR.
Q2. What is nutrition?
Nutrition is the use of vitamins and minerals. Some of the important vitamins are A, B-Complex, C, D and E. Some of the important minerals are Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Magnesium, Manganese, Chromium, Selenium, Sodium, Potassium, Phosphorous, etc.
Q3. Why is nutrition so important for good health?
Due to the over cultivation of land and the use of synthetic fertilizers, the nutrition in the soil has been depleted to the point where the nutrition in our food supply has greatly diminished and presently is approximately just 25% of what it was 50 years back. These are the finding of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). This has resulted in a lot of chronic diseases.
Q4. How is normal nutrition different from Orthomolecular Nutrition?
Normal nutrition, as is found in supplements in health food stores for example, has lower (prophylactic) doses of vitamins and minerals, which temporarily affect the blood serum level and are readily excreted by the body. These are mainly inorganic in nature. Hence, these do not have any lasting effect on the human body and are not optimized to alter nutritional levels inside the cell (intracellular levels).
On the other hand, Orthomolecular Nutrition comprises of much larger doses of organic minerals and vitamins which have a therapeutic effect on the human body and are optimized to alter intracellular levels of nutrition – this is where the nutrition is really required. These type of nutrients are not only readily absorbed, but are also retained by the human body for extended periods of time. Once nutritional levels are correct inside a cell, they have a more lasting effect and this can help to reduce the severity of a lot of chronic diseases, which are aggravated due to nutritional deficiencies.
Altering intracellular nutritional levels is very difficult to achieve. It requires the use of nutrients in a synergistic manner, should be organic in nature and at therapeutic dose levels. These nutrients are optimized to quickly alter nutrition inside the cell and are hence know as intracellular nutrients or Orthomolecular Nutrition and the science as Orthmolecular Medicine. Hence, Orthomolecular Nutrition comprises of very complex formulations and are different from standard off the shelf nutritional supplements available at health food stores, which are low dose and prophylactic in nature.
Q5. What are some of the practical benefits of using Orthomolecular supplements?
Orthomolecular supplements have therapeutic benefits on the human body. For example, they can be used to reduce the severity of the symptoms of depression / anxiety, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, enlarged prostate, hormone imbalance, thyroid problems, to name a few.
Almost all chronic diseases can benefit from the use of therapeutic doses of nutrition formulated as per the requirements of Orthomolecular Medicine.
Q6. Coming back to the depression and anxiety, what are some of the main nutrients that are found deficient at intracellular levels?
Zinc, magnesium and the whole range of B-Complex vitamins are some of the most popular intracellular nutritional deficiencies found in people suffering from depression and anxiety. To be really effective, these need to be administered with a host of other nutrients in the correct proportions to ensure intracellular optimization and extended retention in the human body.
Q7. Why do nutritional deficiencies occur in the human body?
a) Over cultivation of land and the use of synthetic fertilizers has resulted in the depletion of soil nutritional levels. This has resulted in reduced level of nutrition in the food supply to less than 25% of what it was about 50 years back.
b) Weak digestive system which does not efficiently absorb and retain nutrition from the food we eat and the supplements that we take.
An efficient digestive system is the foundation and should be optimized for efficient use of nutrients for the treatment of chronic diseases. To achieve this, a good detoxification of all the excretory organs like the kidneys, colon, lungs, skin, blood and also the liver is very important, along with the rejuvenation of the entire digestive tract. This will ensure proper flow of digestive gastric acids in the stomach, enzymes from the pancreas required for the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and adequate flow of bile from the liver to digest the food in the small intestine.
Optimizing the digestive system will ensure that our body receives nutrition not only form the orthomolecular supplements we take but also from the food we eat. Once a treatment is carried out using Orthomolecular Medicine, the body should rely on food alone aided by an optimized digestive system to ensure that the good effects of the therapeutic doses of Orthomolecular Nutrition taken are maintained into the future.
Q8. How safe are Orthomolecular nutritional supplements?
a) They are safe as they are just nutrition, same as is found in a healthy human body. Hence they are biocompatible.
b) Special care is taken not to use extremely high doses of any one nutrient in isolation which can imbalance the body.
c) The nutrients are at safe dose levels and are in addition synchronized with other nutrients to closely mimic the nutrients found in naturally occurring food. This ensures that they are compatible with the human body and are as close as possible to nutrition found in nature.
Q9. How long does it take to show some positive results?
If your body has begun to manifest serious symptoms like depression or anxiety, it means that these deficiencies are large and need your immediate attention. It is estimated that it will take about six months of continuous supplementation to reduce these deficiencies. However, it is best to also monitor your blood levels periodically, once symptoms reduce, to ensure efficient use of the nutrients being taken.
The human body has a safety mechanism to excrete nutrients not required for its operation. This is the reason why it is very difficult to poison the human body with food taken even in excess of our daily requirements.
Q10. What are the recent advances in Orthomolecular science?
During the last few decades, further research in this science has resulted in a plethora of nutritional supplements which are optimized to safely enhance intracellular nutritional levels, by carrying nutrition to the center of the cell where it is really required. Ordinary nutritional supplements, available in health food stores, are designed to only temporarily alter serum nutritional levels and are weak prophylactic doses, which are not capable of therapeutic action on the human body. These prophylactic doses will therefore not be found effective for the purpose of reducing symptoms or severity of depression and / or anxiety.
Quite often carrier mechanisms are used coupled with cell membrane permeability enhancing mechanisms to help achieve intracellular penetration more efficiently. Hence, Orthomolecular Nutrition comprises of very complex formulations and are different from standard off the shelf nutritional supplements available at health food stores, which are basically low dose and prophylactic in nature.
Q11. If I decide to take Orthomolecular supplements should I discontinue my present prescription medication.
You should not discontinue your present medication. Orthomolecular nutritional supplements can be added to the present medication and are best taken that way keeping your safety in mind. As your symptoms reduce in severity your physician who prescribed these medications will be happy to review these doses for you and make necessary changes.
Q12. What is the basic difference between prescription drugs and orthomolecular nutritional supplements?
Prescription drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor, etc. are synthetic chemical molecules designed to treat the symptom and give immediate relief. This is the advantage of pharmaceutical preparations. They create immediate order in a chaotic situation. They are also very useful to save lives of people. However, when used on a long term bases, they tend to manifest side effects. In order to control the symptoms, these drugs need to be administered daily for the rest of your life. If you stop, the symptoms return.
On the other hand, orthomolecular nutritional supplements are designed to treat the root causes of the symptom and do not give immediate relief as they are slow acting in nature. You may need to take them for a few months to a year depending on the severity of the symptoms. The advantage is that there are hardly any side effects when administered correctly and once the symptoms are corrected you should not need to take them daily for the rest of your life. Since we are treating the root cause of the problem the symptoms normally do not return when these nutritional supplements are stopped.
It is highly recommended not to stop your prescriptions drugs when you commence taking orthomolecular supplements. These should be taken in conjunction with each other and are best taken that way in order to ensure your safety. As the severity of your symptoms subside, your physician will be more than happy to review the doses of your prescription medication.
- Gonzalez MJ, Miranda-Massari JR, Metabolic Correction: A Functional Explanation of Orthomolecular Medicine. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. 2012;27:13-20.
- Pauling L, Itano H, Singer SJ, Wells IC. Sickle Cell Anemia, a Molecular Disease. Science 1949;110: 543-548.
- Turkel H. Medical amelioration of Down’s Syndrome incorporating the orthomolecular approach. J Orthomolec Psychiat 1975;4:102-15.
- Rimland B. High dosage levels of certain vitamins in the treatment of children with severe mental disorders. In: Hawkins, D. and Pauling, L. (eds.). Orthomolecular psychiatry. pp. 513-38. 1973. W. H. Freeman, New York, NY.
- Harrell RF, Capp RH, Davis DR, Peerless J and Ravitz LR. Can nutritional supplements help mentally retarded children? An exploratory study. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 1981. 78: 574-8.
- Pauling L. Orthomolecular psychiatry. Varying the concentrations of substances normally present in the human body may control mental disease. Science 1968,160 (3825): 265–71
- Saul A. Can vitamin supplements take the place of a bad diet? J Orthomolec Med 2003;18:213-6.