I believe that the first vitamins used clinically in “mega” doses were vitamins C and niacin (vitamin B3). Megadoses of vitamin C were used intravenously by Dr. Fredrick R. Klenner of North Carolina to cure polio and other viruses. Megadoses of niacin were used by Dr. Abram Hoffer to successfully treat schizophrenia and many other diseases. Dr. Klenner’s results were ignored, but the dramatic findings of Dr. Hoffer could not be ignored. It was his clinical results with niacin that launched the megavitamin revolution. Many thousands of people owe their regained normalcy to the pioneering studies of Niacin and schizophrenia. We will chat with one such person in this column next month. However, with all the exciting news regarding dietary supplements, many have forgotten the profound health effects of niacin. Niacin plays a role in over 500 reactions in the body.

Most readers today were not around during the days before megavitamins. The highest dosages that you could buy were at the RDA levels. When “Supernutrition: Megavitamin Therapy”, was published back in 1975, it focused on my research with antioxidants, the research of my friend, two-time Nobel Laureate, the late Dr. Linus Pauling, the clinical findings of the late Dr. Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D., and the biochemical discoveries of another friend, the late Dr. Roger Williams (1).

“Supernutrition” went on to become a national best-seller and reviewers have kindly called it the book that “legitimized megavitamin therapy.” Dr. Hoffer was kind enough to work with me during the preparation of my manuscript and make sure I got it precisely correct about his research. If you ever complained about my repetitious style of writing, blame it on Dr. Hoffer. In an August 1974 letter to me, he wrote “it is important to emphasize these points over and over because many psychiatrists appear not to be able to read.” I have taken his point seriously through the years.

Besides my own research with antioxidants, including selenium and vitamin E, “Supernutrition” discussed the research of Dr. Pauling with vitamin C, the clinical successes of Dr. Hoffer with niacin, and the principles of biochemical individuality with Dr. Williams. I was the first to do laboratory research with nutritional antioxidants including vitamin E and selenium. Neither were known to be essential to humans at that time. My friend, the late Dr. Denham Harman, the formulator of the “Free Radical Theory of Aging,” had postulated that free radicals were present in the body and they could do harm, including accelerating the aging process (2). Dr. Harman had conducted animal studies with large amounts (2 to 5% of the diet) of sulfur-containing compounds such as 2-mercaptoethylamine (2-MEA) that were known to protect against radiation. In the early 1960s, I set out to see if synergistic amounts of antioxidant nutrients would be both more effective and more practical. Dr. Harman eventually changed to studies with vitamin E and vitamin C in 1968, but again individually, rather than synergistic combination, and again, still with large, impractical amounts of each at about 0.5 % of the diet (3).

Today, the word “antioxidant” seems over-used on food labels, but the first mentions of nutritional antioxidants were in a 1970 article in Ladies Home Journal by Patrick McGrady Jr. describing my aging research and a similar 1971 article in Prevention Magazine. Looking back, it was quite an honor and privilege to travel and lecture with the aforementioned pioneers of modern nutritional science. We lectured for many years to orthomolecular physicians and health food enthusiasts alike.

Well, it’s time to go back to the basics. Actually, it’s long overdue. I have again called upon Dr. Andrew W. Saul, Dr. Hoffer’s colleague and his co-author of “Niacin: The Real Story” to bring us up-to-date about the health benefits of niacin (4).

Dr. Andrew W. Saul has been an orthomolecular medical writer and lecturer for 40 years. Dr. Saul has taught clinical nutrition at New York Chiropractic College and postgraduate continuing education programs. He was also on the faculty of the State University of New York for nine years. Two of those years were spent teaching for the university in both women’s and men’s penitentiaries (no, not as an inmate).

Dr. Saul is editor-in-chief of theOrthomolecular Medicine News Serviceand has published over 200 peer-reviewed articles. His bestselling book “Doctor Yourself” has been translated into eight languages (5). He has written a dozen other books, four as co- author with Abram Hoffer, MD.  Dr. Saul's educational website iswww.DoctorYourself.com, the largest peer-reviewed, non-commercial natural healing resource on the Internet. He is a board member of theJournal of Orthomolecular Medicineand the Japanese College of Intravenous Therapy. Saul was inducted into the Orthomolecular Medicine Hall of Fame in 2013. He is featured in the documentaries “FoodMatters”and “That Vitamin Movie.”

Passwater:Dr. Saul, welcome back to Vitamin Connection. I first learned of your efforts to improve the health of people through your books with Dr. Abram Hoffer. Please tell our readers how you met Dr. Hoffer.

Saul:I first met Abram at a conference. We had corresponded for some time previously, and he greeted me like he’d always known me. Perhaps in a way he did. Later, when I was sitting next to Abram, I took some vitamin pills. Dr. Hoffer leaned over towards me and said, “You know, you’re going to live a lot longer if you take those.” As I paused and seriously considered that statement, he leaned over again and added, “If you don’t, come back and see me.”

I owe Abram a most sincere debt of thanks. I have found everything that he has written to be extremely accurate and unusually helpful. It is difficult for me to fully understand why orthomolecular medicine has been rejected so thoroughly by the medical profession. My experiences in employing niacin and other vitamins have been consistently successful. Dr. Hoffer has said that it takes about two generations before a truly new medical idea is accepted. Perhaps in the case of megavitamin therapy, just a tad longer than that.

Abram Hoffer's 500 scientific papers and twenty books, including our “Niacin: The Real Story,” have yet to convince everybody, but they have already changed the course of medicine for all time. Those who have seen the benefits continue to tell everybody. Such momentum is unstoppable.

Passwater:That is inspiring. Now let’s look at niacin itself. Why do we need niacin?

Saul:Niacin is the best therapy in existence for normalizing blood lipids. It is the best therapy for schizophrenia. It is also the best therapy for ADHD, obsessive–compulsive disorder, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Niacin as niacinamide is effective against both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Niacin works and niacin is safe. It is also very inexpensive.

Passwater:What is niacin? Originally, niacin was called vitamin B3. Actually, a couple of compounds have vitamin B3 activity. Why the various names, and what are the compounds that are active in the body?

Saul:Niacin is C6H5NO2. As organic molecules go, it is quite small. It weighs considerably less than glucose, the simplest of sugars. In fact, niacin is the smallest of all vitamin molecules. Absorption is excellent.

Niacin can be made inside you from the amino acid tryptophan. However, the reduction is about 60:1, so this is an inefficient and probably impossible way to get therapeutic quantities of niacin. The three most common supplemental forms of B3 are niacin, niacinamide, and inositol hexaniacinate. Niacin causes a flush; people taking it should be ready for that. Niacinamide and inositol hexaniacinate do not cause a flush.

Passwater:How much niacin do we need? What is the RDA and what is the optimal amount?

Saul:The RDA is under 20 mg/day. For prevention, we need at least 10 to 20 times that. In illness, orders of magnitude more.

Passwater:How much are people actually getting?

Saul:Maybe the RDA. Maybe.

Passwater:Hopefully you will be kind enough to discuss a full column on this subject in a later issue, but can you give our readers a quick overview of how niacin can help schizophrenics?

Saul:Schizophrenia is not caused by a drug deficiency. Schizophrenia is a niacin dependency. It takes a lot of niacin to do the job.

An example: Jim was schizophrenic and was totally unmanageable. At 21, he’d already been kicked out of the state mental 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.

Medical science had not helped him, so the family was motivated to try Dr. Hoffer's approach. At really large doses, niacin has a profound calming, sedating effect. He took 3,000 milligrams of niacin a day, divided into three 1,000 mg doses. The first night on the niacin, he slept 18 hours. Subsequently, he slept about seven hours each night.

Perhaps this was the most moving part of the story. His father told me that one day, for the first time in 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 wonderful. 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.

Passwater:That is important. Next month, we will chat in detail with someone who has a personal story to share with us. But, there is still more to the niacin story. Niacin can help people keep their cholesterol levels normal. Again, I hope you are so kind as to discuss this fully in an upcoming column, but for right now, would you please give our readers a brief overview of niacin and blood cholesterol?

Saul:Niacin normalizes blood lipids. Inositol hexaniacinate works too, though not quite as well. Niacinamide will not, by the way. If you want to lower LDL, lower triglycerides, and raise HDL, niacin is the best way to do so. Nine years ago, the president of the American College of Cardiology said, in the New York Times, “Niacin is really it. Nothing else available is that effective.” That is still true. Niacin is better than the statin drugs, and is far safer.

Passwater:If niacin is so safe and effective, then why do I keep seeing articles written by physicians trying to discourage the use of megadoses of niacin to help regulate blood cholesterol levels?

Saul: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? Ask yourself these two questions: Who paid the authors of those articles? Who paid for the advertisements in the journals publishing those articles?

George Bernard Shaw observed, “The test to which all methods of treatment are finally brought is whether they are lucrative or not.” There may not be millions to be made with niacin, but in the end, the economics will not matter. What really matters is who gets better. Abram was once criticized by another doctor who said to him, “I don’t think it’s really about niacin, Dr. Hoffer. Your success as a physician is due to your excellent bedside manner.” Abram replied, “I am nice to all my patients. But only those taking niacin get better.”

Passwater:While we are giving our readers a brief overview of the health effects of niacin, what other effects do you see as being important?

Saul:Niacin is therapeutic for an astonishing number of conditions. Again, because it is so important: For decades, orthomolecular physicians have successfully used niacin to normalize cholesterol levels. Niacin or niacinamide is the best therapy for psychosis, ADHD, obsessive–compulsive disorder, anxiety and bipolar disorder. Niacinamide reverses both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Not bad for one vitamin. Too good to be true? Medical doctors have documented these cures for decades. This is what we talk about in “That Vitamin Movie.” People can learn more about this film, and more about megavitamin therapy, at my Facebook page where I am “The Megavitamin Man.”https://www.facebook.com/themegavitaminman/?fref=ts

Passwater:Well, I’ve seen the 30-minute preview and it is well done. I highly recommend the movie to all people interested in how megavitamins and orthomolecular medicine can make people healthier. I’m waiting for my DVD copy now. People will enjoy watching the movie more than reading a book. It’s educational and a great documentary as well. Please tell our readers a little more about topics that are covered.

Saul:“That Vitamin Movie” is all about high-dose vitamin treatments for an incredible range of serious diseases. Cancer, heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, ADHD and many other topics are addressed by over 20 experts. There has never been a feature film about megavitamin therapy...until now. You will also get to see me take 16,000 milligrams of vitamin C at one dose, all at once, on camera. And by the way, that was take 2. I therefore actually took a total of 32,000 mg within just a few minutes. I also show on screen what other supplements I take, and, of course, discuss nutrient safety as well. May I emphasize that no one is recommending that you take that much C at once.

My situation was unusual in that I was stressed from a lot of location filming. I needed an immune boost like no other. It sure worked for me. My motto for vitamin C consumption is “take enough C to be symptom free, whatever that amount might be.” But do not take so much as to cause loose stool: that is your bowel tolerance. We can thank Dr. Robert F. Cathcart for this wisdom. You can watch the trailer and learn more about the film atwww.thatvitaminmovie.com. To learn more about megavitamin therapy, my websites arewww.doctoryourself.comandwww.andrewsaul.com.

Passwater:Thank you for this brief overview based on the book you co-authored with Dr. Abram Hoffer, “Niacin: The Real Story” (Basic Health 2012). Let’s plan to follow up with more information about niacin and schizophrenia, cholesterol ADHD, anxiety and depression in future columns. However, before we discuss the science of niacin and schizophrenia, let’s look at a real-life case history involving a fairly well-known member of the natural products industry.

  1. Passwater, R. A. "Supernutrition: Megavitamin Revolution." Dial Press, NY (1975).
  2. Harman, D., "Aging: A Theory Based on Free Radical and Radiation Chemistry." J Gerontol 11 (3): 298-300 (1956).
  3. Passwater, R.A. "The Free-Radical Theory of Aging: Part I: How it all began; An interview with Dr. Denham Harman." WholeFoods Magazine (1995). http://www.drpasswater.com/nutrition_library/harman_interview.html
  4. Hoffer, A., Saul, A.W. & Foster, H.D. "Niacin: The Real Story." Basic Health Publications, Inc. Laguna Beach, CA (2012).
  5. Saul, A. "Doctor Yourself: Natural Healing That Works." Basic Health Publications, Inc. Laguna Beach, CA; 2nd Revised ed. edition (August 13, 2012).

Dr. Richard Passwater is the author of more than 45 books dr. passwaterand 500 articles on nutrition. Dr. Passwater has been WholeFoods Magazine’s science editor and author of this column since 1984. More information is available on his Website, www.drpasswater.com.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine March 2017