Cancer and Vitamin C: The Mayo Clinic Trial

Linus Pauling, 1979

[Part 7 of 9]

In their 1979 book, Cancer and Vitamin C, Ewan Cameron and Linus Pauling sought to explore the potential for vitamin C to treat or even cure a disease that claimed the lives of millions per year. The two understood that many would raise an eyebrow at the notion that something as simple as vitamin C could treat cancer more effectively than other chemotherapeutics, and to defray this skepticism the duo knew that their point of view needed be independently verified.

After a period of reluctance, Pauling and Cameron found scientists at the Mayo Clinic who were willing to conduct a vitamin C trial on some of their cancer patients. But as we will see, instead of validating Pauling and Cameron’s findings, the Mayo Clinic’s results indicated that vitamin C did not help fight cancer, and in some instances, actually made patients’ outcomes worse. These findings were not at all expected by Pauling and Cameron, and afterward they devoted significant energy to unraveling what had gone wrong with the trials. But before they were able to do so, word had already spread that vitamin C did not work, and little that Pauling and Cameron did could change people’s minds from there.


Ewan Cameron was a physician at Vale of Leven Hospital in Scotland who, after reading up on the subject, and believing that he had nothing to lose, began to treat some of his most severe cancer patients with vitamin C. The results were quite dramatic, with some patients who were near death making positive progress that bordered on miraculous. Even though many of the treated patients’ cancer was so progressed as to rule out a complete recovery, nearly all those given vitamin C experienced a marked improvement of their quality of life. Cameron was convinced and soon almost all of his cancer patients were being given vitamin C.

Shortly after Cameron began vitamin C treatments in earnest, he began his collaboration with Pauling. The two knew that their results had the potential to change medicine and they were eager to let the scientific world know about the work. The problem, however, was that no clinical trial or scientific study had been conducted, and the team knew that claims based on anecdotal data would not hold up in the eyes of many. One solution would be for Cameron and Pauling to conduct their own trial, but Cameron objected to this on moral grounds, believing it wrong to treat a portion of the trial group with a placebo instead of life-saving vitamin C. As such, Cameron was unwilling to conduct a clinical trial on his own patients. Pauling supported his partner’s stance but still understood the need for someone to validate their results.

Cameron and Pauling were also aware of the difficulties inherent to convincing a research group to undertake such a task, particularly given the unorthodox nature of their claim. For many, vitamin C also seemed too simple and too easy a solution. Notably, Cameron and Pauling were likewise not able to readily explain how vitamin C worked. They knew that the treatment did work because they had seen it do so in patient after patient, but the actual underlying biological mechanism remained elusive.

Another problem that Cameron and Pauling faced was the fact that ideal vitamin C dosing had not been formally determined. In other words, there was no standard dose of vitamin C for Cameron’s cancer patients. Instead, Pauling and Cameron let individual patients’ bodies “decide” their own specific optimal dose. They did so by increasing individual dosages up to bowel tolerance — once a patient began experiencing diarrhea, they had reached their maximum dose. This lack of uniformity was atypical and looked down upon by many.


Though Pauling and Cameron were in need of their own study, clinical trials that examined vitamin C and cancer had actually predated their work. The earliest study that Cameron and Pauling were able to find took place in Germany in 1940, several decades before Cameron began dosing his patients with vitamin C. In the German study, researchers confirmed that cancer patients tended to have lower levels of vitamin C in their blood than was the case with healthy subjects. Much later, in 1979, a Japanese team found that cancer patients who were given vitamin C tended to enjoy better five-year prognoses compared to those who did not add supplemental vitamin C to their diets.

These data, while helpful, mostly left Pauling and Cameron wanting more. What they needed was research that mirrored their own approaches to treatment and that would help support their ideas. Through some advocating by Pauling, scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota agreed to conduct a study that intended – but ultimately failed – to mimic Cameron and Pauling’s work. Carried out in 1978-1979, the study was double-blind, meaning that patients and practitioners alike could not determine if a given participant was in the treatment group or the placebo group.

At the conclusion of the study the Mayo researchers published their results, and they were not what Pauling and Cameron had hoped for, nor expected. Instead of finding that vitamin C helped fight cancer, the Mayo study concluded the polar opposite, going so far as to advocate that vitamin C not be used in conjunction with a cancer patient’s therapy.


Pauling and Cameron were both scientists at their core and would have been willing to accept the Mayo results if they thought that the trials had been rigorous. But in fact, Pauling and Cameron believed that the Mayo Clinic’s study was too dissimilar to their own protocol to be considered a valid test. Notably, the duo objected strongly to the fact that patients in the Mayo study were given vitamin C after receiving chemotherapy, whereas Cameron and Pauling always gave vitamin C before chemotherapy. This was important because Pauling and Cameron believed that chemotherapy degraded the effectiveness of vitamin C and, as such, dosing afterwards was bound to yield poor results. Indeed, in their own work, Cameron and Pauling had developed similar conclusions to the Mayo team for patients given vitamin C after chemotherapy. Fundamentally, Cameron and Pauling were not trying to prove the effectiveness of vitamin C when used after chemotherapy, but before.

Cameron and Pauling also balked at the trial’s method for administering vitamin C. Importantly, in the Mayo study, patients were given vitamin C orally, whereas Cameron and Pauling delivered their doses as intravenous drips. Even though Cameron and Pauling did not, at the time, know for sure why the mechanism of delivery should make a difference, they clearly understood that it did. The Mayo group disagreed and argued that their testing protocols were similar enough that the results should be deemed as valid.

In the end, the Mayo Clinic’s prestige and name recognition won out, and most observers aligned themselves with the study’s results. And while this clearly affected physicians and their prescribing behavior, it did not diminish Cameron and Pauling’s belief in the efficacy of vitamin C to treat cancer, and they continued to advocate for its use.

Cancer and Vitamin C: Misnomers and More

Pauling at the chalkboard, 1979.

[Part 6 of 9]

Ewan Cameron and Linus Pauling’s 1979 book, Cancer and Vitamin C, was rooted in the most sound scientific understanding that could be compiled at the time. And through its three editions, many of the novel conclusions that the duo put forth made their way into the alternative health mainstream. That said, there are some assertions in the book – especially related to cancer treatments – that have been proven to be incorrect, and in places the authors use language that is certainly out of date.

Pauling and Cameron’s support of a synthetic estrogen, diethylstilbestrol (DES), is an area open to criticism. In their overview of cancer types and treatments, special attention was paid to cancers of the reproductive organs. This was so because, as Pauling and Cameron explained, reproductive cancers could sometimes be addressed with hormonal therapies. Certain breast cancers, for example, respond well to hormones and can be managed quite well with estrogen alone. Oftentimes these treatments were administered through the use of synthetic hormones, and one that Pauling and Cameron touted as being effective was DES.

First introduced in the late 1930s, DES developed a reputation as a miracle compound. It was used to help women overcome morning sickness during pregnancy, and doctors later deployed it to help prevent miscarriages. By the 1970s however, researchers were finding a correlation between treatment with DES and higher rates of birth defects. Despite these data, the connection, at the time, was somewhat ambiguous, and physicians continued to prescribe the drug. When Pauling and Cameron wrote their book, DES was also seen as a viable and effective treatment option for cancers, particularly of the breast and prostate, and Cancer and Vitamin C makes note of its safety and efficacy, particularly in addressing prostate cancer. Today however, adverse effects from DES are much better understood and, by 1997, manufacture of the hormone had essentially ceased.


Pauling and Cameron also made references to cancer prediction that did not hold up. Certain of these references were hamstrung by the fact that the field of genetic counseling had not been fully established by 1979. In their discussion of women’s health, Pauling and Cameron recognized that there appeared to be a link between breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and that these diseases sometimes ran in families. It was believed, therefore, that there was a genetic component to these diseases, but the authors felt as though it would be a long time before much could be done about such cases.

Today, while genetic counseling cannot prevent cancer per se, certain gene mutations have been identified as posing more particular risks, and individuals who show markers for those mutations can take actions to improve their odds for staying healthy. Those with the BRCA mutation, for example, have a much higher chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer, but with enough advance knowledge they can elect into surgeries or enhanced screenings that can drastically reduce cancer risk. So while Cameron and Pauling were pretty clearly aware of these genetic links, their language suggests that they did not anticipate the role that genetic screening plays today.

Another misnomer related to cancer prediction has to do with Pauling and Cameron’s assertion that cervical cancer is not caused by an STD, despite other theories at the time that suggested as much. Fundamentally, the idea that a communicable disease could cause a noncommunicable disease did not seem to make sense to the duo. However, we know today that certain strains of viral hepatitis can develop into cervical cancer. This knowledge has resulted in a hepatitis vaccine that is essentially a cancer vaccine. Nothing of the sort was mentioned as a possible treatment option in the book, likely because the idea did not seem to be supported by the scientific evidence that Pauling and Cameron were consulting.


Some of Pauling and Cameron’s misnomers were not directly related to scientific argument, but instead are more a reflection of the times in which the book was written. This is particularly evident in their olios of cancer patients who were treated with vitamin C. Part of their rationale in doing so was to humanize cancer and its treatment, especially with vitamin C. As a result, in addition to a description of their disease trajectory, Pauling and Cameron also provided a brief description of the person, including details like their age, job, and even physical appearance.

While these descriptions add personality to the text, they also offer a glimpse into the rhetoric of the day that is sometimes cringe-inducing, particularly when it comes to women. One patient, for example, was described as a “plump jolly widow,” another was a “slim attractive housewife,” and a third was a “wealthy attractive woman in her early forties.” In other instances, women were defined in terms of their husband’s occupations; the “wife of an unemployed shipyard laborer,” for example, and “the wife of a prosperous doctor.” In this, Cameron and Pauling’s cancer book also provides the reader with a document of cultural value, if unwittingly.

Cancer and Vitamin C: A Review of the Book

The Camerons and the Paulings in Scotland, 1974

[Part 5 of 9]

Cancer and Vitamin C, by Ewan Cameron and Linus Pauling, was first published in 1979. A second edition was released in 1993, and a third came out in 2018. While the later editions included new ancillary materials, the primary text of the book mostly remained unchanged. In it, Pauling and Cameron fundamentally sought to make the case that vitamin C therapy is an effective means of treating cancer; indeed, even more effective, in some cases, than “traditional” therapeutics. In building these claims, the book outlines the ways in which vitamin C helps to fight cancer on both theoretical and metabolic bases, and concludes with specific examples of therapeutic successes.

Even though the book was written by a Nobel laureate (Pauling) and a leading cancer physician (Cameron), the text is approachable for a general readership. The book’s short chapters help maintain a quick pace while allowing for discussion of many topics without getting overly detailed. But in part because of this structure, the authors do not fully explore the connection between vitamin C and cancer until about halfway into their text. The initial chapters are instead devoted to establishing a foundational understanding of cancer and disease, thus equipping the reader to more fully appreciate how vitamin C might related to cancer. Once the connection is made however, the book approaches vitamin C and cancer from so many different angles that it is hard to finish without at least considering the value of a prophylactic vitamin C supplement.


The book begins with an overview of cancer and carcinogens, notably including heat. In their text, Pauling and Cameron make reference to higher incidences of cancer among people who use coals to heat their body, as was practiced in India and elsewhere. Pauling and Cameron believed that the heat was somehow changing individuals’ DNA, and that this was contributing to the higher cancer incidence. This assessment, of course, was informed by Pauling’s understanding of how other carcinogens, such as radiation, caused cancers and birth defects in those exposed. The notion that cancer could be the result of DNA changes was a novel idea at the time of publication, and the understanding that chromosomal changes could occur as a result of radioactive carcinogens was also relatively new. Nonetheless, Pauling and Cameron suggested that many incidents of cancer could be a result of changes to or mutations in DNA.

From there, the authors focused on a discussion of the various types of cancer, classifying each by the area of the body that is affected. Accordingly, the book contains unique discussions of cancers of the skin, stomach, esophagus, larynx, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, bladder, and lung. Cancers of the sexual organs (testicular, ovarian, prostate, uterine and breast) were given particular attention because, according to Pauling and Cameron, hormones usually affected these in particular ways that played a key role in the effectiveness of vitamin C treatment. Cancers of the lymphatic system, sarcomas (tumors of the bone), tumors of the brain, tumors of the blood, and tumors in infants were also explored in the book.    

Following this discussion, Pauling and Cameron shifted their focus to the common kinds of cancer treatments that one might expect to receive, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormones, and immunotherapy. Once again, little attention was paid to vitamin C in these early chapters. Instead, the authors chose to detail more conventional treatment options as a means to developing a common understanding with the reader.

One interesting exception to this approach was the duo’s discussion of chemotherapy. As will be examined in later posts, independent researchers found that patients given vitamin C fared no better than their counterparts who were not given vitamin C. Pauling and Cameron protested these results, in part because the patients in the independent study had received chemotherapy followed by vitamin C treatment. Pauling and Cameron argued that chemotherapy works by destroying the immune system and vitamin C works by strengthening it. Logically then, vitamin C therapy would be most effective in instances where patients have not received chemotherapy.


After setting this groundwork, Pauling and Cameron then began to explain why vitamin C was an ideal substance to treat cancer. The specifics of their argument are detailed in our previous posts, but in general, vitamin C was believed to be effective against cancer because of its ability to enhance the immune system’s natural defenses; essentially it boosted the fighting power of the immune system. Pauling and Cameron drew these conclusions through human trials, literature reviews, and anecdotal evidence, and ultimately argued that vitamin C should be used in conjunction with nearly every cancer patient’s treatment protocol, and sometimes even in lieu of orthodox treatment altogether.

Pauling and Cameron concluded the book with a discussion of other people’s research; specific examples of people who had been treated with vitamin C; and analysis of clinical trial results. Each of the editions winds up with a series of appendices relaying, for example, the estimated number cancer deaths in the United States at the time of publication; information about various anti-cancer drugs and their chemical method of action; and, later on, the details of an important symposium on vitamin C and cancer, which we will review in a later post.


Cancer and Vitamin C is ambitious and full of complicated scientific and medical concepts that the authors explain in terms understandable to most readers. Amidst it all, the authors’ message is clear throughout the book: vitamin C can help to cure cancer and should be used. While the first part of the volume initially appears to be a bit off topic, readers are rewarded later with a rich connection made between the nature of cancer and the value of vitamin C. And whether or not the reader accepts the book’s central thesis, its thorough explanation of cancer as a disease and of terms associated with cancer will prove beneficial to many.

Controversial from the moment that it was published, Cancer and Vitamin C remains compelling today, a worthwhile investment for skeptics and believers alike. And for those interested in Linus Pauling as an individual, the book provides valuable insight into how his ceaselessly curious scientific mind could take an issue as perplexing as cancer and approach it in a classic Pauling way: different from his peers and with a keen sense of intuition.

Optimal Health and the Synthesis of Vitamin C

Diary entry by Linus Pauling, 1980. The text reads: “L[inus] P[auling] / Found enzymes enthralling / He was filled with glee / By Vitamin C”

[Reading Cameron and Pauling’s Cancer and Vitamin C, part 4 of 9]

In their ambitious 1979 book, Cancer and Vitamin C, Ewan Cameron and Linus Pauling argued that vitamin C possessed the ability to cure cancer. As remarkable as this suggestion was, in some respects it was almost secondary to the broader biological role that Pauling and Cameron assigned to the vitamin. As they made clear in their book, much of vitamin C’s importance could be attributed to the special way that it is made by most animals…not including ourselves.


As animals, including humans, have evolved, they have lost the ability to internally synthesize certain vital nutrients, which must now be obtained through diet alone. That said, nearly every being in the animal kingdom has retained the ability to synthesize its own vitamin C. In fact, humans are among a very small subset of animals who have lost this ability over evolutionary time, such that all of our vitamin C needs must now be met through diet. If a person does not meet this dietary need, they will develop scurvy, grow sick and eventually die. Therefore, it is paramount that humans regularly consume a baseline amount of vitamin C.

In addition to vitamin C, humans also cannot synthesize vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, and niacin, all of which are also essential for life. A deficiency in niacin, for example, can lead to pellagra, a primary disease of the skin which can result in death. Likewise, a deficiency in vitamin B1 can manifest as beriberi, a potentially fatal disease of the nervous system. But even though the absence of these nutrients will usher in dire consequences, humans have lost their ability to produce them internally.

Why is this so? The basic prevailing theory is that even though these nutrients are vital for life, food-based sources have historically been so plentiful that there was no need for the nutrients to be produced “in house.” Moreover, from an evolutionary perspective, obtaining a nutrient from a food source, rather than through self-synthesis, offers significant advantages, since it can require a lot of energy to internally produce nutrition. Once freed from the burden of self-synthesis, an organism becomes capable of applying that store of energy toward other activities.

But vitamin C seems to be a special case. Despite the evolutionary advantages of obtaining nutrition from food sources, every studied animal on Earth continues to synthesize it internally except for the following: humans, primates, guinea pigs, one species of fruit eating bat, a South Asian bird called the red vented bulbul, some grasshoppers, and fish in the trout family. For Pauling and Cameron, the tenacity with which animals have held on to the ability to produce their own vitamin C was further proof of its importance.


So again, why not humans too? Why have we lost this ability? Pauling and Cameron believed it was due to an evolutionary quirk.

As we have noted, there are evolutionary advantages to losing the ability to synthesize vitamin C. If two animals are competing for resources, the animal that is not also preoccupied with the internal process of generating its own nutrition will theoretically outcompete an opponent that is hamstrung with that energy burden. Pauling and Cameron believed that, at some point in the past, a mutant human ancestor who could not synthesize its own vitamin C successfully outcompeted other human ancestors, and was able to do so because, at that time – around 50 million years ago – its environment was abundant in vitamin C-rich foods. As the mutant bred and passed along its genetics to its progeny, its traits continued to outcompete, out-mate, and eventually eliminate vitamin C-synthesizing humans altogether. Pauling and Cameron posited that a similar situation arose with other animals, including primates, who have also lost their ability to synthesize vitamin C.

And while that idea makes intuitive sense, one still wonders why nearly all other animals have retained their capacity for vitamin C synthesis, even while losing the ability to internally produce other nutrients. The answer, according to Pauling and Cameron, is two-fold. Point one is that vitamin C is objectively important, and this special importance meant that animals tended to retain the ability to synthesize it. Crucially for humans, point two is that animals’ true need for vitamin C is far greater than what can be obtained through diet alone. In this sense, even though the human mutants were able to outcompete their synthesizing foes for a time by obtaining vitamin C through diet, maintaining that diet was not sustainable for a growing population, and perhaps the mutants never truly obtained enough vitamin C after all.


Pauling and Cameron were convinced that humans were underdosing their vitamin C, and doing so in part because of the guidance being provided by the very agency charged with providing accurate information on nutritional needs. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) provided by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) serves as a standard for the amount of a given nutrient that one should consume per day to maintain their health. Pauling and Cameron believed that the RDA chronically underestimated the true daily needs for specific nutrients; the recommendation for vitamin B1, for example, was about 1.5 times below optimum in their minds. In the case of vitamin C however, Pauling and Cameron believed the RDA to have been grossly underestimated at about 200 times below optimum daily need. Where once the FDA was recommending 60 mg of the nutrient per day, (bumped up to 90 mg in the year 2000) Pauling and Cameron pushed for 12,000 mg.

To determine the optimal dose of vitamin C for humans, Pauling and Cameron looked at how much vitamin C other animals synthesize, and how much dietary C the mutant human ancestor might have been expected to consume on a daily basis. For this second supposition, the researchers used data on how much vitamin C is present in specific foods and what types of foods were likely predominant when the mutant edged out its competition. The outcomes of this analysis connected with observations of contemporary primates who live in climates similar to the mutant and who ingest large amounts of vitamin C daily through their diets — volumes close to the 12,000 mg that Pauling and Cameron believed to be ideal. Finally, when analyzing the amount of vitamin C that other animals synthesize, a conjecture can be drawn about the optimal quantity for humans. A 154 pound goat, for example, could be expected to synthesize 13,000 mg per day, and other animals generated quantities that were roughly proportional to the goat by body weight.


For Pauling and Cameron, the evidence from the animal kingdom further compounded the idea that vitamin C is vital for life and that large amounts of the substance are crucial for maximizing health. But because we have lost our ability to produce our own vitamin C, most humans are living in states of suboptimal health and are exposing themselves to greater risk of affliction with serious disease. And because – as we saw in our previous post – the symptoms of scurvy closely mimic those of cancer, one might draw a connection between the two, and posit that biologically insufficient vitamin C levels are a source for increasing rates of cancer.

Why Vitamin C? The Scurvy Connection

James Lind

[Reading Cancer and Vitamin C, part 3 of 9]

In their 1979 book, Cancer and Vitamin C, Ewan Cameron and Linus Pauling made clear that vitamin C was uniquely suited to fight cancer, but the duo still needed to address some unanswered questions. Namely, what was so special about vitamin C, and how did that specialness help it to fight disease?  For Pauling and Cameron, part of the answer was connected to vitamin C’s protective factor against scurvy.


By the time that they were working on their book, it had been long understood that the body could store vitamin C. It was likewise well-known that, without any new infusions, these stores would deplete and symptoms of vitamin C deficiency would begin to manifest. Scurvy is the disease that arises once the stores have dropped below a critical level, with symptoms including drops in weight, loss of teeth, bleeding gums, poor wound healing, seizures, jaundice, disorientation, and eventually death. Scurvy was quite common among sailors because the food they took with them on their long voyages often lacked adequate levels of vitamin C. These foods, which were selected because they wouldn’t spoil, generally featured biscuits and cured or salted meats. But after months at sea, eventually their vitamin C concentrations would diminish, and disease would set in.

For a long while it wasn’t well understood what the exact source of scurvy might be, though many suspected it had something to do with one’s diet. As early as 1536, French explorer Jacques Cartier found that he was able to prevent scurvy by drinking a tea made from arborvitae leaves, which was great from a practical viewpoint but still didn’t unravel the root cause of the illness. Almost two centuries later, in 1747, Scottish physician James Lind initiated a concerted effort to uncover the secret. By manipulating the diets of scurvy patients, Lind soon discovered that those who were given an orange and a lemon were cured, while others who consumed diets lacking oranges and lemons continued to decline. But what exactly was in lemons and oranges that could help stave off scurvy remained a mystery.

Almost two-hundred years passed before the secret ingredient in oranges and lemons was finally unlocked, when Albert Szent-Györgyi isolated the substance in 1928 and correctly identified it as vitamin C in 1932. As a result of Lind’s discovery and Szent- Györgyi’s subsequent work, scurvy is now an entirely preventable disease.


As they continued their review of the literature, Pauling and Cameron came to realize that there is also a connection between scurvy and cancer; a connection that was also made centuries earlier by James Lind. When Lind was conducting his scurvy work, part of his search for a cure involved performing autopsies on those who had died of the disease, and he was interested to find that many patients with scurvy also suffered from cancerous tumors. This intriguing connection between cancer and scurvy was not more fully explored at the time, because when people contracted scurvy, they typically died shortly thereafter, meaning that cancer was rarely their cause of death.

In 1954 however, a Canadian physician, W.J. McCormick, reached the conclusion that both scurvy and cancer were diseases of collagen, and that scurvy damaged cells in a manner almost identical to the changes wrought by cancer cells as they replicate. McCormick also pointed out that late-stage cancer symptoms are very similar to those of late-stage scurvy, including anemia, hemorrhaging, formation of ulcers, increases in infections, and low levels of plasma and leukocytes. These connections added weight to Pauling and Cameron’s belief that vitamin C held secrets to fighting cancer, and encouraged them to keep pressing their case.

Why Vitamin C? Cancer Fighting Properties

Ewan Cameron, Ava Helen and Linus Pauling. Glasgow, Scotland, October 1976.

[An analysis of Ewan Cameron and Linus Pauling’s book, Cancer and Vitamin C. This is part 2 of 9.]

In their 1979 book, Cancer and Vitamin C, Ewan Cameron and Linus Pauling argued that vitamin C could be used to effectively treat cancer. With such a bold claim having been issued, vitamin C now needed to do a lot of heavy lifting. More specifically, Pauling and Cameron needed to prove that vitamin C could a) effectively treat cancer and also b) do so better than other substances being used to treat and cure cancer. As such, the authors devoted nearly half of their book to exploring vitamin C’s unique properties, with particular attention naturally paid to its cancer-fighting abilities.

In doing so, Cameron and Pauling first examined known cancer-causing agents on the cellular level and then investigated how vitamin C interreacted with these agents. One such substance was the enzyme hyaluronidase. When Pauling and Cameron were writing their book, it was widely recognized that certain malignant tumors released this enzyme and that, when exposed to healthy tissues, the enzyme would break down the glycosaminoglycans, which might be likened to the “cement” that makes tissues strong. As the cement became weaker, the tissues grew more vulnerable to being penetrated by cancer cells. By extension, it was believed that hyaluronidase promoted the spread of malignant cells within the body. It was also suspected that cancer cells released a different enzyme, collagenase, which would break down the collagen in tissues, further weakening cells and making them more susceptible to disease.

Having established this, Pauling and Cameron then illustrated the role that vitamin C could play in obstructing this process. Studies had found that vitamin C naturally helps to produce a hyaluronidase inhibitor, which in effect blocks the enzyme and stops the destruction of the tissue cement. Furthermore, vitamin C is known to be a necessary component for the building of collagen, and it was proposed that increased intake of vitamin C could boost collagen production and strengthen cells even more.

When Pauling and Cameron published their first edition, some of the ideas regarding hyaluronidase and collagenase were speculative. Pauling and Cameron were also relying on their collective scientific expertise to develop a model for vitamin C’s interactions with these enzymes. Pauling was not shy about making informed inferences to explain scientific phenomena, and in the case of vitamin C and these two enzymes, his thinking appears to have been correct. Since the publication of the first edition of Cancer and Vitamin C, two different research teams have published articles (in 2001, 2004, 2010, and 2011) which found evidence that vitamin C does in fact help to inhibit hyaluronidase.

More recent research has also suggested that high levels of vitamin C generate hydrogen peroxide. While it is not clear what the exact mechanism is that causes this, it is known that hydrogen peroxide can lead to a type of cell death that turns out to be useful in the cancer fight. Most healthy cells are not impacted by hydrogen peroxide because of the presence of an enzyme, catalase, that neutralizes its impact. Cancer cells, on the other hand, are not equipped with catalase; or if they are, the amount is negligible. So it is now well-established that hydrogen peroxide can kill cancer cells, but getting sufficient quantities of hydrogen peroxide to cancer cells inside the body has proven challenging. By administering large doses of vitamin C, it is hoped that clinicians may someday be able to provide targeted hydrogen peroxide therapy to patients who could benefit from it.


While Pauling and Cameron were able to provide data-based connections between vitamin C and its ability to fight cancer, their book also includes more anecdotal ideas that support their argument. One such observation was that patients who were given vitamin C for cancer treatment tended to experience less severe side effects from chemotherapeutics than those who did not take vitamin C. Although it was hard to quantify, Pauling and Cameron noted several instances where bed-ridden patients under Cameron’s care would take vitamin C and soon be capable of moving about. Cameron also observed that patients who stopped taking vitamin C often saw their symptoms rapidly return.

More notably, several of Cameron’s patients who were given vitamin C were found to go into remission. Because of ethical concerns related to placebo trials, Cameron and Pauling did not have any controls to support their claims. However, many of the patients took no treatment other than vitamin C, and Cameron, who had been a practicing physician for many years prior to beginning work on vitamin C therapy, understood that remissions for many of these cancers was not at all common.

To further support the notion that there was something special about vitamin C, Pauling and Cameron also observed that healthy people could not tolerate as much supplemental vitamin C as could those suffering from cancer. That is to say, healthy patients could take only so much vitamin C before they began to experience side effects, such as diarrhea, than was the case with cancer patients. This anecdote suggested to the authors that cancer patients needed a large amount of vitamin C – all of it was, in effect, being used, and as such there were no negative side effects. In fact, the appropriate dosage was often determined by giving a patient as much as they could tolerate before experiencing side effects.


Pauling and Cameron knew that vitamin C helped fight cancer. They saw that their patients were getting better and, from a molecular viewpoint, the mechanisms involved made sense, even if the data wasn’t in hand to prove everything. But there was more to support vitamin C as a model substance for treating cancer, and that had to do with its connection to scurvy, which we will explore in our next post.

Reading “Cancer and Vitamin C”

[An exploration of Ewan Cameron and Linus Pauling’s influential – and controversial – 1979 book. This introductory post is part 1 of 9.]

Despite all of the research that goes into cancer, relatively little progress has been made in its treatment — at least, that was the conclusion that Linus Pauling had arrived at in the 1960s. Long interested in the subject, Pauling was frustrated that many of the treatment options that had been developed helped to prolong life, but usually failed to cure disease.

As someone who often looked first to chemistry in his search for answers, Pauling increasingly came to believe that his growing interest in the power of vitamins might hold the key to not just treating cancer but curing it. By the 1970s, Pauling had teamed up with a key collaborator, Scottish physician Ewan Cameron, and in 1979 the duo published an important book titled Cancer and Vitamin C.


Beginning in the 1960s, Pauling’s scientific gaze began to focus on the connection between the potential connection between optimal health and vitamins, and he eventually came to theorize that many diseases could be sourced to vitamin deficiencies. By extension, Pauling surmised that if a deficiency of vitamins could cause disease, then perhaps an increase in vitamins could help stave off or even reverse an illness. Doing so, however, was not merely a case of the patient taking a few supplements. Instead, Pauling reasoned that massive amounts of a vitamin were often necessary.

This approach to treating disease – commonly referred to as megadosing – blossomed into a new field, which Pauling labeled “orthomolecular medicine.” Convinced that this work had great promise, Pauling co-founded an institute devoted to advancing the research, much of which he and his collaborators published in both the scientific and popular literature. Orthomolecular medicine, in Pauling’s view, could help cure maladies ranging from the common cold to schizophrenia. And while many vitamins were of interest to Pauling, one in particular took on central importance: vitamin C.

In 1979, Pauling and Cameron completed work on Cancer and Vitamin C, a popular text in which the authors attempt to persuade their readers to agree with two basic ideas: one, that vitamin C is powerful enough to treat cancer; and two, that the treatment regimen they outline actually works. Over the next three weeks, we will explore Cameron and Pauling’s endorsement of vitamin C from three different angles. After that, we will dig into an analysis of the book itself, including important updates on new research that were incorporated into a 2018 reissue of the volume.

Vitamin C for COVID Pneumonia and More

[Part 2 of 2]

The second half of the Linus Pauling Institute’s annual Pauling Day event was devoted to a question-and-answer session with the day’s panel speakers: Anitra Carr, Alpha “Berry” Fowler, Jeanne Drisko and Maret Traber. Event moderator Alexander Michels, a researcher at LPI, fielded questions submitted by the large audience watching live on Zoom and YouTube. The conversation was dominated by intriguing work being done on vitamin C and COVID-19, though several other topics were discussed as well. Here is a synopsis of the Q&A.

How much vitamin C should we be taking?

Carr answered this question first and noted that, while a lot depends on one’s condition, studies have generally found that healthy people need about 200 mg per day. Carr added that obtaining this amount through supplements is fine, since the body will excrete any excess vitamin C that is not used, but that it is also possible to ingest this amount through fruits and vegetables alone. As mentioned by Traber in her presentation, a diet of 5-9 servings per day of fruits and vegetables will usually provide enough vitamin C. Carr added the caveat that this is only the case when at least two of those servings come from fruits or vegetables with high vitamin C concentrations; foods like kiwi fruit or oranges. Further, cooking foods decreases the bioavailability of vitamin C and should be considered when calculating one’s daily vitamin C intake.

While most panelists generally agreed with Carr, they did have some additional thoughts. Michels, the event moderator, noted that LPI recommends at least 400 mg per day, simply because most people do not know if they are in sub-optimal health or suffering from Metabolic Syndrome. Given that the 200 mg value is put forth for those who are already at optimum health, in LPI’s view it is best practice to err on the side of extra vitamin C, especially since there are virtually no side effects connected with taking a higher than necessary dose. Drisko echoed Michels’ comment and added that, because of the inherent difficulties in testing vitamin C blood plasma levels, developing an accurate assessment of need is often a challenge. In keeping once again with the idea that it is better to be safe than sorry, Drisko recommends that people go as high as they can tolerate when supplementing vitamin C. This method, which Drisko personally uses, means that intake might fluctuate from day to day, but may also yield better long-term results. Fowler agreed that supplementing is a good idea and added that he personally takes 500 mg twice per day of a buffered vitamin C, which helps to minimize some of the gastral symptoms that can arise when using higher levels of the vitamin.

Is there a difference between various forms of vitamin C?

Drisko and Carr both answered this question, and both made clear that there is no difference in terms of bioavailability from one form to another. Drisko did note that lipid-encapsulated vitamin C helps to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms and recommends its use. That said, she also cautioned that lipid-encapsulated vitamin C cannot be used in intravenous treatment.

Tell us more about the use of vitamin C in treating COVID-19.

This next question was directed initially to Fowler, who is currently running a COVID-19 and vitamin C study. Fowler explained that COVID pneumonia, which is caused by a virus, creates an infection of the airways that presents in a manner similar to sepsis. Previous research has also found that viral- and bacterial-derived sepsis present in basically the same way, and that both respond well to vitamin C infusions. Based on this, Fowler felt that there could be promise in using intravenous vitamin C to treat patients suffering from COVID pneumonia.

In Fowler’s earlier research, he found that vitamin C acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. It does so by reducing the explosion of DNA that may have escaped during illness, and that often serves as a hallmark characteristic of inflammation. Fowler has also found that vitamin C reduces tissue damage. This is important because, with COVID pneumonia in particular, the virus works to destroy lung tissue.

For his current study, patients need to be positive for COVID-19, have COVID pneumonia, and be on a ventilator. In addition to the usual standards of care for COVID pneumonia, test group patients are being given an intravenous infusion of vitamin C, with dosages based on the VCU protocol. Because the study is double blind, Fowler does not know who is in the test group, but he has already noticed a stark divide in patients’ prognosis following their treatment, with some recovering rapidly and others declining. These early observations are tantalizing and may be indicative of vitamin C making a positive impact on patients suffering from COVID-19.

Drisko also spoke about her experiences related to vitamin C treatment of COVID-19. Near the beginning of the pandemic, Drisko travelled with a team of experts to Wuhan, China, the site of the index case of the virus. In Wuhan, the team treated several nearly comatose patients with vitamin C at an infusion rate of 25-50 grams per hour; rates that are similar to the VCU protocol. These patients, who were believed to be near death, wound up recovering. More detailed information on these findings is scheduled for publication.

Michels then asked the other panelists about their impressions of vitamin C and COVID-19. In response, Carr spoke of misleading studies that have prompted a false belief that vitamin C is not effective in combatting the virus. In one example, patients were given 8 grams of vitamin C orally. As Carr explained in her prepared remarks, the bioavailability of oral vitamin C is limited by the carrying capacity of transport molecules that are found in the stomach, and is thus far less effective than is intravenous vitamin C. Regardless of this limiting factor, the study did find that symptoms shortened by about 1.2 days, but that finding was not statistically significant and the study was stopped prematurely. Carr is confident that if the trial had been designed to test IVC, it would have yielded better results. Instead, the study helped to perpetuate a pessimistic narrative surrounding vitamin C’s efficacy. As Michels added, “statistically underpowered studies are misleading people and are sadly a common thing with vitamin C.”

Next, Fowler reflected on his connection with a controversial study, the VICTUS trial, which reported a negative relationship between vitamin C and COVID-19. In this instance, doctors gave patients 1.5 g of IVC four times a day, a quantity much lower than that called for by the VCU protocol. In addition to the vitamin C, patients were given 2,000 mg per day of thiamin and 50 mg of hydrocortisone four times a day. The study did not find any significant reduction in symptoms, nor a reduction in mortality. While an author on the study, Fowler emphasized that he did not participate in its design but merely helped to administer its procedures, and he pointed out several areas for criticism. In addition to the relatively low levels of vitamin C administered, the study was privately funded, and instead of the 2,000 people the study called for, just 500 people were enrolled. While critics have cited the low number of enrollees as a primary reason for such poor results, Fowler believes it was really the low levels of vitamin C. For Fowler, 50 g really is the target range for IVC, which is what is in the VCU protocol. Michels, who agreed with Fowler, commented that with vitamin C a big lesson is that “dose matters.”

Drisko then weighed in on the issue of mis-dosing. As a long-time vitamin C researcher, Drisko is confident that there is very little risk in giving a person too much vitamin C, adding that she is soon to publish a pharmacokinetic study concluding that, when cancer patients are given vitamin C up to their tolerated dose, there is no sign of organ damage. Her study also helps to combat a pervasive myth that high doses of vitamin C lead to increased bleeding or kidney damage. While the study did find increases in patients’ calcium levels, nothing about it was alarming. (Even though vitamin C has a high osmolality, the high levels of vitamin C did not destabilize calcium levels.)

Talk about the link between vitamin C and kidney stones.

In rare instances, when people are put on IVC they can develop oxalate kidney stones. To minimize these risks, Drisko recommends that all IVC patients get their urine tested to check for signs of oxalate production, an indicator of the development of these kinds of kidney stones. But, as Drisko explained, not all kidney stones are oxalate, so having a history of kidney stones is not necessarily a contraindication for IVC. More important is the need for any practitioner delivering IVC to check their patient for an inherited G6PD enzyme deficiency, because if a person has this condition and is given IVC they can develop hemolysis and risk possible death.

Drisko and Carr also commented on the risk for kidney stones posed by oral vitamin C dosing. Both agreed that this is not something that people without a history of kidney stones need to worry about, since supplementary vitamin C doses are generally equivalent to those found in a typical diet. Carr added that many studies that have shown a connection between the development of kidney stones and vitamin C do not prove cause and effect, but rather suggest a connection. There are many factors that can lead to kidney stones, such as dehydration and diet. For Carr, the popular belief that vitamin C causes kidney stones arises from weakly supported studies that do not actually prove a connection.


Alexander Michels ended the Q&A by asking panelists to comment on the future of vitamin C research, including the funding landscape for work of this sort. Carr replied that in her experience over the past two decades, finding money for vitamin C research has not gotten much easier, but that might be changing with a greater volume of encouraging results being published. Notably, researchers have recently found that vitamin C plays a role in epigenetic mechanisms and gene regulation. These data can, in turn, help support mechanistic rationales for funding, something that has often been missing in the vitamin C field. All of that said, Carr believes that the biggest barrier to stable funding is a shared body of knowledge. Too many physicians in particular are still unaware of the importance of vitamin C, and one of her jobs as a researcher is to educate colleagues about its importance. Traber agreed and noted that it is often hard to convince practitioners to trust the evidence that vitamins are important, though as more research is published, she too is hopeful that attitudes will shift.

Vitamin C and Health: New Frontiers

[Part 1 of 2]

On February 27, 2021, the Linus Pauling Institute (LPI) at Oregon State University hosted its annual Linus Pauling Day celebration, using the occasion to also mark twenty-five years of LPI at OSU. The eponymous celebration is traditionally held on Pauling’s birthday, who on February 28, 2021 would have been 120 years old. The event this year, held a day early, was also conducted entirely over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because it was held in a virtual space, the event was able to attract a large audience, with moderator Alexander Michels – a research associate at LPI – noting that over 1,200 people were in attendance.

This year’s topic, “Vitamin C and Health: New Frontiers” focused on the latest research into vitamin C and its impact on human health. Four experts – Anitra Carr Ph.D., University of Otago; Alpha “Berry” Fowler III M.D., Virginia Commonwealth University; Jeanne Drisko M.D., University of Kansas; and Maret Traber Ph.D., OSU – spoke about recent trends in basic and clinical research, covering topics including cancer, sepsis, and COVID-19. The 90-minute event began with prepared comments from the speakers followed by a question-and-answer session moderated by Michels.

Event welcome slide with Emily Ho speaking at right.

LPI director Emily Ho opened the event by providing some useful background on Pauling and his contributions to vitamin C research. As Ho explained, Pauling was “a true innovator” whose research into vitamin C was not initially embraced by the scientific community, despite clear evidence of its efficacy in helping reduce infection and prevent disease. Ho also explained how Pauling viewed vitamin C as the perfect vehicle to explore ideas on orthomolecular medicine; the notion that, through the intake of “the right molecule at the right dose,” one might prevent or cure many ailments. In this, Pauling helped to “revolutionize” the connection between vitamins and health.

Following Ho’s introduction, the day’s first speaker, Anitra Carr from the University of Otago in New Zealand, began her prepared remarks. Carr has a long history of working with vitamin C. Before beginning her current position in her university’s Nutrition in Medicine Research Group, Carr worked as a researcher at LPI. In 2001, Carr’s collaboration with former LPI Director Balz Frei on vitamin C and its connection to cardiovascular health helped bring about a change in the Recommended Dietary Allowance from 60mg to the 90mg per day for healthy adults.

In her talk, Carr presented an overview of vitamin C and its relationship to fighting disease. Carr explained that most animals synthesize their own vitamin C and therefore do not require any external sources of the vitamin. But humans, along with a few other animals, lack the enzyme needed to produce their own vitamin C. As vitamin C is required by humans to sustain life – it is essential for cellular energy production, hormone and neurotransmitter synthesis, metabolic regulation and, as recently determined, gene regulation – it must be obtained entirely through the consumption of fruits and vegetables, or from supplements.

Carr also reminded audience members of Pauling’s critical role in establishing vitamin C as a viable molecule to combat disease. In the 1970s, Pauling, along with Scottish surgeon Ewan Cameron, found that intravenous vitamin C megadosing could drastically improve the prognosis for critically ill cancer patients, if not outright cure them. But this research was overshadowed by other trials conducted by the Mayo Clinic that found no changes in survival rate between a placebo group and trial group. In reviewing this history, Carr stressed that the Mayo Clinic’s trial administered vitamin C orally, not intravenously, and this difference has since been proven to be quite significant. Recent research has found that intravenous vitamin C “bypasses the regulated intestinal uptake,” meaning that a person “can get much higher levels of vitamin C” in their system when the dosing is applied intravenously. In addition to improved absorption, the intravenous approach also allows for much higher doses to be applied: present-day IV infusion bags for cancer patients contain about 70 g of vitamin C, which is equivalent to about 1,000 oranges.

From there, Carr moved on to recent vitamin C research including her own, which explores the relationship between vitamin C and colorectal cancers. Specifically, Carr and her team have biopsied colorectal tumors and found that, at their core, they contain very low levels of vitamin C. When these same patients have been dosed with intravenous vitamin C, their tumor cores show higher levels of the vitamin. This finding connects with other work suggesting that, when cancer patients have high levels of vitamin C in their tumors, their prognosis improves. This is so because “vitamin C helps white blood cells eliminate pathogens from the body.” Likewise, people who are sick often have higher blood plasma levels of vitamin C, an indication of their need for the vitamin, since any unused vitamin C is rapidly excreted throughout the body. By extension, “critically ill patients tend to have higher requirements for vitamin C.”

The next speaker was Jeanne Drisko, who spoke further on the effects that vitamin C can have on prognosis. An emeritus professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Drisko’s presentation focused intently on the differences between oral and intravenous vitamin C (IVC), and how these two routes of administration make big differences in the ways that vitamin C acts on the body.

As Drisko explained, for healthy people, obtaining vitamin C orally (either through diet or supplements) is usually enough to maintain proper levels. (In Drisko’s slide above, this status is indicated in green.) However, when people become sick, oral vitamin C dosing is no longer adequate. This circumstance is what Drisko calls the “primary divide” and can be seen in her chart as a progression into the redder colors. Once an individual has crossed over the primary divide, their vitamin C needs increase by orders of magnitude, from requirements in the micromolar range to requirements in the millimolar range. A jump of this sort is akin to leaping across the Grand Canyon, and not achievable through the intake of oral vitamin C. Because of the inhibitory transport molecules in the gut, oral vitamin C cannot provide the blood with millimolar levels of vitamin C, and is therefore inadequate for people who have arrived at that level of need.

In the context of IVC however, differences emerge in the way that vitamin C acts within the body, depending on the dose. In the millimolar range of IVC, vitamin C can be considered a “prodrug.” In using this type of instance, Drisko explained that vitamin C is not the actor that is creating positive health benefits, but instead is acting upon a substance that is creating the positive effects. Specifically, vitamin C (“the prodrug”) helps promote the curative powers of hydrogen peroxide (“the drug”). Vitamin C saturation can eventually reach a point where it acts as a drug, and at those levels, one crosses into the “secondary divide” where the full benefits of vitamin C can be seen. Patients can arrive at the “secondary divide” with IVC dosing of about 10 grams or more, “even up to 100 grams.” Depending on the circumstances, one can benefit from increasing up to such large doses because, as Drisko put it, “it’s a linear response; the higher the dose of IVC the higher the production of hydrogen peroxide.”

Because different metabolic changes occur depending on levels of vitamin C saturation, Drisko noted that proper dosing is a critical component of any successful IVC protocol. Drisko likened this to a scenario where a prescriber treats a MRSA patient with vancomycin, an antibiotic known to be effective with bacterial infections. The proper dose to treat MRSA is one gram every eight hours, but in the hypothetical, this doctor gives the patient just one milligram every eight hours. A prescription of this sort would necessarily mean that the patient is underdosed and will not have adequate blood levels of the antibiotic to fight MRSA. As Drisko pointed out, this scenario doesn’t mean that the vancomycin is ineffective, it just means that the wrong dose was given. As with vitamin C, “dose is critical.”

So too is the rate at which a dose is administered. From her research, Drisko has concluded that an infusion rate of 0.5-1 gram per minute – akin to about 50 grams every 1-2 hours – is ideal. And while Drisko assured her audience that these high doses are safe, there is a caveat: those with a G6PD deficiency and/or a propensity for developing oxalate kidney stones should not undergo IVC therapy because of potentially life-threatening complications. (These risk factors will be discussed in more detail in our next post).

The next presentation was delivered by Alpha “Berry” Fowler III, who spoke about the connection between vitamin C, sepsis, and COVID-19. Fowler, a professor of Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University, has found that when people are in sepsis, their vitamin C blood plasma levels drop to alarmingly low levels that nearly approximate those found in sufferers of scurvy. This led Fowler to conclude that illness and vitamin C are linked, and that those who are critically ill are somehow using up their vitamin C at a much more rapid rate than those who are not.

Seeking to test the theory that vitamin C plays a role in disease management, Fowler received funding from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a Phase III trial titled “Vitamin C Infusion for Treatment in Sepsis-Induced Acute Lung Injury.” Fowler specifically chose to test those with lung-related sepsis due to the prevailing connection between lung disease and low vitamin C levels.

In his study, which was deployed at seven medical centers around the U.S., 170 participants were randomized, with 83 placed on a placebo and 84 enrolled in the trial. Both groups received the same standard of care for sepsis, including the use of ventilators as needed. The only difference in care was that the trial group received an infusion of vitamin C at a rate of 50mg/kg every six hours over a 96-hour period, an approach that was subsequently named the “VCU Protocol.” The research team found that those receiving vitamin C infusions had plasma levels rise from the micromolar to the millimolar level – a 6,000-fold increase. Fowler and his team then charted incidents of organ failure and death over the next five years. During this period of time, 46% of the placebo patients died, as compared to 30% of the vitamin C patients.

Buoyed by these results, Fowler is now working on expanding the initial trial to a larger scale. He is also currently involved with a study on vitamin C treatment of COVID-19 pneumonia, with 140 patients currently enrolled and using the VCU Protocol.

The last speaker of the day was Maret Traber, a nutritionist and the Ava Helen Pauling Chair at LPI. Traber’s topic was Metabolic Syndrome (METS), a designator used for a range of people who are on the verge of developing disease, including obese or pre-diabetic individuals. In the U.S., approximately 35% of adults have METS. As Traber noted, people with METS also tend to have chronically low levels of vitamin C, though why this is the case is still an open question. The good new though, is that even if people have METS, they can get satisfactory levels of vitamin C through diet alone, and don’t need to be treated with IVC. Traber recommends 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day for healthy people and people with METS alike. Eating a diet of this sort will also supply adequate levels of other vitamins including vitamin E – the primary focus of Traber’s work – which can work synergistically with vitamin C to reduce free radicals in the body. 

After the panelists gave their talks, the forum was opened up to a question-and-answer session. This portion of the event will be covered in next week’s post.

Pauling’s Study of Schizophrenia: Pulling Back

ASA leaflet with Pauling’s annotations, circa 1971

[Part 9 of 9]

Throughout his long advocacy of an orthomolecular approach to mental disease, Linus Pauling weathered intense skepticism from his critics and gained support from sources both likely and not. Despite this, Pauling was not always inclined to reciprocate when asked for help by certain of his allies. One notable instance of Pauling “pulling back” concerned a request by the American Schizophrenia Association and its desire to fundraise on behalf of orthomolecular medicine.

The American Schizophrenia Association (ASA), which was initially called the American Schizophrenia Foundation and later renamed the Huxley Institute, was founded in the 1960s by Pauling’s close colleagues, Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer. Hoffer and Osmond served on the board as Vice-President and President respectively for a number of years, and as a favor to his friends, Pauling joined the board as well.

By 1971, the ASA was in need of funds. In an effort to raise more capital and grow the organization’s membership, ASA chairman Donald Webster began organizing a direct mail campaign. Believing Pauling to be the most “well known and respected” person on the board, Webster asked Pauling to offer his signature at the bottom of the campaign’s centerpiece letter.

Webster’s draft, however, raised some red flags. For one, Pauling felt as though the style and voice of the letter was too dissimilar from his own. He was likewise concerned about attaching his name to an offering that might be scientifically inaccurate or misleading. And he was irked by a recent experience with Executive Director Mel Mendelssohn, who had written in a publicity flyer that Pauling was “one of the few men ever to have won two Nobel Prizes.” Famously the only person to have received two unshared Nobel Prizes, Pauling took the time to write to Mendelssohn and express his feeling that this “carelessness needs to be pointed out” before coolly requesting that Mendelssohn tell him “who the other men are” who had also won two Nobel Prizes.

For all of these reasons, Pauling believed that it would be “unsatisfactory” for him to sign. As he explained in his reply to Webster, “I have taken action of this sort a few times in the past, and have also regretted it a few times.”


Webster, for his part, seemed to initially understand Pauling’s hesitation, but nonetheless was persistent. He responded by first acknowledging that “style is a highly personal” characteristic “which cannot be duplicated by another writer” and then emphasizing that his initial pass was just a draft “composed for its idea value.” Clearly Webster still felt as though the ASA’s best option for fundraising was to lean on Pauling’s celebrity.

These tactics did not convince Pauling to agree to sign the letter, but did compel him to offer a new rationale for his decision. This time around, Pauling offered that he could not participate in the letter project because of the time commitment it would require and because he was “so burdened with work […] editing the contributions to the new book Orthomolecular Psychiatry.”

Though twice spurned, Webster continued the conversation and eventually Pauling agreed to have his name used for the fundraising campaign. But this acquiescence did not allay Pauling’s concerns about the veracity of the letter’s claims. For example, a suggestion that a $25 donation could “provide a kit for diagnosing schizophrenia” seemed too high. Pauling wanted to know how expensive the kits actually were, and asked the ASA to verify the cost. About a month later he received his answer — the kits did not actually cost $25, but that total would, among other things, cover the ASA’s costs of sending samples out for laboratory testing.

Pauling was bothered by what he saw as a misrepresentation of costs and also by the ASA’s failure to divulge that they were not analyzing samples in-house. For these reasons, he once again soured on the idea of signing the letter, and wrote to the organization to retract the use of his name from the campaign. Ironically, amidst this all, the ASA sent Ava Helen Pauling a solicitation letter mentioning the $25 schizophrenia kit.


Once he had decided to sever ties with the direct mail initiative, Pauling took pains to point out all the other errors that he had found in the ASA’s letter. One passage claimed that “fifty dollars distributes a research study to ten clinics.” From experience, Pauling knew that this claim was inaccurate, noting that “this seems to me to be about ten times what it should cost to distribute reprints of a paper, even including the cost of reprints.”

By October 1971, Pauling had decided that he wanted to detangle his research from ASA support, writing in a curt letter to the board that he “would prefer not to report on the work that [I] am doing at the present time.” Though he did not elaborate much on his reasons, nor comment on the conflict about the fundraising campaign, the message was clear: the time had come for Pauling to pull back from the ASA.