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Orthomolecular Medicine

Orthomolecular is a term that comes from ortho, which is Greek for "correct" or "right," and "molecule," which is the simplest structure that displays the characteristics of a compound. So, it means the "right molecule."


Orthomolecular medicine describes the practice of restoring balance and correcting underlying causes by providing the body with optimal amounts of substances that are normally present in the body. Most of these substances include minerals, vitamins, trace elements, fatty acids, and amino acids.

Dr. Abram Hoffer was one of the first serious published orthomolecular medicine practitioners in the 1950s. His therapies included niacin, and other nutrients, to address acute schizophrenia.


Initially, Dr. Hoffer networked with a small team of scientists and health professionals who cooperated to research and develop restorative treatments for schizophrenia. Dr. Hoffer explains the restorative dimension of care:

“The practice of orthomolecular medicine recognizes that diseases are due to a metabolic fault that is correctable in most patients by good nutrition, including the use of vitamins and mineral supplements.”

Megavitamin therapeutics proved safe and effective. Many of Hoffer’s acute schizophrenia patients recovered taking optimum doses of a methyl acceptor (B-3, niacin, or niacinamide) with an antioxidant (C, ascorbic acid). For more than 50 years, while researching and developing regimens of nutrients to heal psychosis and other mental disorders, Hoffer reported clinical progress and success by improving diets and giving medicinal doses of vitamins B-3, B-6, C, zinc, and manganese. Thousands of patients recovered.

Most psychiatrists ignored Hoffer’s double-blind placebo-controlled gold-standard research. Without studying his ideas, experiments, data, or findings, ‘modern’ psychiatrists dismissed Hoffer’s reports of a 75% recovery rate for acute schizophrenia. They did not interview his recovered patients. Believing that thousands of patients and their trusting families could benefit from complementary vitamins and minerals, Abram Hoffer somehow found the time to write more than 30 books and 600 medical journal articles and editorials.


For decades, he wrote about the biochemistry of schizophrenia, described the healing capabilities of vitamins and other nutrients, recommended healthy diets, and introduced orthomolecular medicine to patients, families, caregivers and health professionals.


Hoffer’s books include The Chemical Basis of Clinical Psychiatry (1960), Niacin Therapy in Psychiatry (1962), How to Live with Schizophrenia (1966), The Hallucinogens (1967), Smart Nutrients (1980) Orthomolecular Medicine for Physicians (1989), and Adventures in Psychiatry (2005). This 2005 book, clear enough for every reader, is a classic example of Hoffer’s thorough research, detailed references, careful observations, and thoughtful writing.

Orthomolecular psychiatry follows “Pfeiffer’s Law”:

“For every drug that benefits a patient, there is a natural substance that can achieve the same effect.”

Dr. Humphry Osmond, Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, and Dr. Linus Pauling continued the work that was started by Dr. Hoffer. It was two-time Nobel Prize winner, and molecular biologist, Linus Pauling, Ph.D., that coined the term "Orthomolecular" in his 1968 article "Orthomolecular Psychiatry" in the journal "Science."

Dr. Pauling defined the principles of orthomolecular therapy as preserving good health and preventing disease through changing the concentration within the body of molecules of substances that are naturally occurring in the body and necessary for life, including amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and essential fats. Accordingly, dietary supplements, including vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, flavonoids, herbs, and accessory food factors, are among the most valuable and safe substances for the prevention and treatment of serious chronic and acute diseases associated with mortality, as well as everyday health problems that cause discomfort and disability. It is important to take adequate doses for their full benefits. Because they prevent deficiency diseases at low doses, they have acquired a reputation for being necessary only at these low levels. As a result, many physicians ignore the value of much higher doses that are useful for therapeutic purposes and protection from age-related degeneration.

Small amounts of essential nutrients treat deficiency diseases, but these conditions (scurvy, beriberi, pellagra, and rickets, for example) are rarely seen in developed countries. Marginal nutrition associated with marginal health is much more likely to be the problem. For the most benefit from dietary supplements, it is important to ignore the RDA (recommended dietary allowances) levels that are found in food and most common dietary supplements and focus on the research that shows the benefits of appropriate doses, which are often much higher than the RDA.

An increasing number of scientific studies have been confirming the view that high doses of nutrients are therapeutic and preventive. Vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, B-complex vitamins, and coenzyme Q10 are among the many nutrients that have been shown to contribute positively to health and longevity at doses much higher than the RDA. While therapeutic levels for minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, and chromium, are much closer to the RDA, supplements beyond what is normally present in foods may still be essential for the prevention and treatment of disease and slowing the aging process.

Additionally, in today’s Western society, the food industry has convinced many people to eat foods that are modified from their raw and original state into nutritionally dead, highly refined, processed food. Therefore, even when one eats these processed foods until they feel full, they are still undernourished. To persuade us into eating these foods, processed food manufacturers add artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, and chemically alter nutritionally dead products, which would taste horrible without all the artificial modifications.

Maintaining orthomolecular balance is the biological challenge of survival; doing it well is the key to health and wellbeing.


Traditionally this balance was controlled by our choice of food and drink. Only in the last century do we have access to food concentrates that make it possible to regulate the rates of a chemical reaction within our bodies intelligently.

Nutrition and pollution denote the two classes of molecules that most influence our survival. Orthomolecular health medicine puts nutrition first but also screens for pollution. This is a human ecology view of health: mankind is seen in relation to the environment.

The aging process is typically accelerated because of free radical exposure, frequent or chronic inflammation, and toxic exposures (such as heavy metals or industrial and agricultural hydrocarbons). Reversing this process or slowing it down is one goal of orthomolecular therapy, along with the treatment of health problems.

Stress is another human ecology concept, denoting the adaptive response of the neuro-immune-endocrine systems to the environment, which presents as physical, chemical, and psychological stimuli. The individual responds with what Hans Selye called, the General Adaptation Syndrome. This has 3 stages: Alarm, Adaptation, and Exhaustion; and at whatever stage, stress is ultimately measured in terms of biochemical change within the individual.

In summary: Nutrition and Pollution are environmental factors. Stress and Disease are types of human responses to the environment. Adaptation is the fundamental purpose of our physiology. To the extent that stress induces adaptation, it strengthens physiologic mechanisms of survival and health. Orthomolecular medicine is, by its very name, a molecular approach to nutrition, pollution, and stress. Orthomolecular medicine focuses on the adaptive response to environmental stressors and aims to make the necessary corrections before damage is done. Orthodox medicine begins with the idea of disease, where orthomolecular medicine leaves off. 

One of the best publications and sources for orthomolecular medicine is The Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine.

This publication began as the Journal of Schizophrenia in 1967. After 1968, the name was changed to Schizophrenia, and in 1971 the name was again changed to Orthomolecular Psychiatry to reflect the increased scope of this type of therapy to other mental illnesses. In 1986, as it became clear that nutritional therapy was widely applicable to both physical as well as mental disease, the publication underwent a final change to the more inclusive Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine and is presently published as such today.

Since 1970, this quarterly Journal for health professionals has published the best of nutritional research and clinical trials. New articles describing orthomolecular approaches to health management and treatment of disease are accompanied by lively editorials, book reviews, letters, and reports.

The Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine has led the way for a quarter-century in presenting, far in advance of other medical journals, new health concerns and treatments including Candidiasis; Mercury Amalgam Toxicity; Niacin Therapy for Schizophrenia and Coronary Disease; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Vitamin C and Cancer; Allergies and Behavioral Disorders; Drug and Alcohol Abuse; Tissue and Mineral Analysis; and Orthomolecular Treatment for AIDS and Cardiovascular Disease.

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