Oops – They Got It Wrong (and will not admit it)

Mainstream medicine branded Linus Pauling a pseudo-scientific quack for suggesting that people required mega-doses of vitamin C for good health. This attack was despite Pauling being a leading physicist and perhaps the greatest chemist of the 20th century. Corporate medicine conveniently forgot medical science is built upon Pauling’s massive contribution to molecular biology. Now the Linus Pauling Institute (LPI) at Oregon State University continues his approach to nutrition and medicine. But Dr Balz Frei, the head of the LPI, has other ideas.

Following Linus Pauling’s death in 1994 the NIH (US National Institutes of Health) claimed that people were wasting their money on high dose vitamin C supplements. They had blown apart the supposedly unscientific idea that gram level or above doses of vitamin C could work. The NIH claimed that the human adult was “saturated” at a dose of only 200 mg.[link][link] Oddly, the head of the Linus Pauling Institute supports this suggestion, and claims people need only low levels of vitamin C.[link] The National Academies of Science put it this way: “The rigorous criteria for achieving steady-state plasma concentrations (five daily samples that varied less than or equal to 10 percent) make the … data unique among depletion-repletion studies.”[link] Here “steady-state” means the NIH saturation level.

Silly errors

Corporate medicine grabbed this idea with a vengeance. They thought the NIH had shown that Pauling and his upstart followers were quacks and obviously wrong. They based RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) values for the population on this new research. Corporate medicine had won and classified the vitamin C “fanatics” as pseudo-scientists.

Then in 2004 Steve Hickey and Hilary Roberts showed that high-dose supplements of vitamin C had a short half-life in blood plasma. Indeed, the half-life of large doses was only 30 minutes and not the several weeks assumed earlier. The NIH claims for plasma saturation were just silly. The NIH gave a dose of vitamin C waited until it was excreted and then measured the blood levels. When the level did not rise, they described the blood as saturated. This was a blatant and obvious error that any scientist could have discovered. But the reviewers of the NIH papers, the journal editors, and the numerous authorities were taken in.

The supposedly uniquely rigorous NIH research was wrong and Pauling and the flaky health freaks may have been onto something. Amusingly, Hickey and Roberts demonstrated the silliness using the NIH’s own data.[link] Here is their graph of plasma levels of vitamin C. The added red arrows show the initially injected vitamin’s concentration falls by half in a few minutes. This is a standard method of measuring the half-life. With oral intakes the body is both absorbing and excreting the vitamin over a period of some hours, which extends and flattens the curves somewhat. Note, however, oral doses return to the baseline of about 70 (microM/L).

Half Life from the NIH data

Half Life from the NIH data

According to the NIH the plasma saturates at (70 microM/L) and doses higher than 200 mg would thus not increase the levels. This is clearly bizarre as higher levels are clearly shown in their own graphs! Don’t believe Hickey and Roberts – check the data in the chart yourself. Seventy is the minimum not the maximum. What could have possessed the NIH to make such a mistake? Moreover, what could have caused the authorities, such as the Institutes of Medicine, to avoid seeing the blunder?

The Real Steady State

To add to the nonsense the NIH published graphs for high doses showing how they expected multiple doses of 3 grams every 4 hours to raise the plasma levels consistently to 220 (microM/L). This concentration is more than 3 times the level they claimed was a maximum (saturated at 70 microM/L).[link] Their graph is shown below. The red arrow shows the approximate steady state for 18 grams a day, which we consider an underestimate. Note that the highest levels in this graph occurred with a dose of 18,000 mg a day or 90 times the dose they claimed to give maximum levels. So once again the NIH debunked their own “saturation” claims.

Steady State

Steady State

The NIH data showed that blood plasma was not “saturated” at an intake of only 200 mg a day but would need at least a dose of about 20 grams a day, or 20,000 mg, to be anything like what could reasonably be described as saturated. Once again, check the NIH data in the graph yourself. Is there really any room to doubt that their data show that the highest levels come from the largest intakes?

Even now the NIH is trying to claim that plasma levels after supplements are always below 250 (microM/L) [link]. This is despite levels of about 400 (microM/L) being described for liposomal vitamin C supplements [link] and up to about 800 (microM/L) observed for a joint supplement of ascorbic acid and liposomal vitamin C. [link]  Chemist Irwin Stone reported even higher values (~2000 microM/L or 35 mg%) in a cancer patient taking 130-150 grams of oral vitamin C a day.[link] The reader may like to ask themselves what is so important to institutional medicine that it must misrepresent data about high-doses of vitamin C.

Since Hickey and Roberts pointed out the blunder several years ago, you might think that institutional medicine would have made the necessary corrections. However, the only change appears was to replace the word “saturation” with the phrase “tightly controlled” and the intakes stay at 200 mg giving rise to a plasma level of about 70 (microM/L).

Incredibly a decade after the explanation, the “experts” continue to publish papers on vitamin C claiming that the body saturates at an intake of only 200 mg. Moreover, claims for high doses are still considered inappropriate and not even studied. So for example the highly acclaimed Cochrane review on vitamin C and the common cold does not include the doses claimed to prevent or treat the illness.[check the full document here]

Can we really trust the judgment of scientists that cannot even read a chart? Recent reviews continue this silliness. One review asked if large vitamin C supplements can be beneficial because of “saturation”, sorry “tightly controlled” levels.[link] No we are not kidding. The final irony is the assertion by the head of the Linus Pauling Institute that an RDA of 200 mg per day is the optimum amount of vitamin C.

Scientists at the Linus Pauling Institute support higher intakes and suggest a minimum of 400 mg daily.[link] So why is Dr Frei their director of research supporting the NIH claims? We note that the directors LPI “laboratory is supported primarily by grant P01 AT002034 from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)” – in other words the NIH.[link]


The problem is that this error potentially has implications for the health of humanity. Consider the claims for high dose vitamin C by Pauling and others are that it will prevent heart disease, stroke, and cancer. If these claims are correct, the main ills facing advanced nations could be largely a result of shortage of this simple vitamin. In their book Medical Blunders, Robert Youngson and Ian Schott listed medicine’s denial of Pauling’s claims for vitamin C in their history of amazing true stories of mad, bad, and dangerous doctors.[link] People suggesting low intakes need to be sure that they are on solid ground.

Why are these people so unwilling to admit a simple error?


4 Responses to Oops – They Got It Wrong (and will not admit it)

  1. Pingback: Linkblogging For 21/12/12 « Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

  2. Doug says:

    Dr. Steve Hickey please contact me.

    • I delayed replying to this comment for a long time because checking the link it seemed like the poster was trying to sell a form of vitamin C described as “Recverin”.
      It seems that the person concerned has “discovered” that DHA (oxidized vitamin C) is more easily absorbed than ascorbic acid. The idea is that taking DHA is a better alternative than other forms of vitamin C. I think this request for contact was to explain this great “new” finding.

      The idea is dangerous. DHA is pumped into cells and converted to vitamin C (reduced to ascorbic acid) because it is more toxic. The ratio of ascorbic acid to DHA in the blood is an indicator of health. The more DHA the sicker is the person. DHA in large doses acts as an oxidant rather than an antioxidant – take a large dose and the body has be an antioxidant for the DHA.

      The pharmacokinetics of DHA is reasonably well understood and there is nothing new here.

      People taking high doses of DHA are taking an oxidant – an “anti-anti-oxidant” if you like. It is a really awful thing to do particularly if the subject is already sick. I would say this is a bad, bad idea but it’s worse than that.

      Steve Hickey PhD

  3. health tips says:

    Thanks to my father who informed me concerning this blog, this
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