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Linus Pauling, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Vitamin C

Posted by Sunday on May 20, 2010 at 12:16 pm

So, my dad never stops talking about vitamin C.  Are you sick?  That’s too easy:  vitamin C.  Are you tired? Well, still vitamin C.  Achy?  Blurred vision?  Tinnitus?  Broken leg?  Dog won’t stop barking?  Need a job?  FOR FUCK’S SAKE, TAKE SOME VITAMIN C.

To be fair, the answer to all the above should you ask my mom is “Take a shower.”  True story.  Sometime in my teens I started to notice that whenever my sister or I had any physical complaints my mother would say in her most medically professional voice (which is formidable — 20 years of nursing does that to you) “You’ll feel so much better if you take a shower.”  Now, in her defense, we were filthy ragamuffins and needed showers, but it wasn’t until I was older that I started to understand the wisdom of her advice.  You do always feel better if you take a shower.

Anyway, this is about my dad and his healthy man-love for Linus Pauling.


In quick summary, since I’d rather that you read his book instead of relying on my paraphrasing, Pauling believed this: mega-doses of vitamins C, E, B and A are not only safe, but necessary for an ideally healthful life.  And this is contrary to what you’ve been told.

To get more specific, the RDA recommends 60mg of C, but Pauling recommends a minimum of 6,000mg.  And despite being one of the greatest scientists in the world regularly ranked along side Einstein and Crick, despite winning two Nobel prizes (one for chemistry and one for peace), despite winning almost every scientific award you can think of, despite living well into his 90’s and staying physically¹ and mentally fit for the duration, despite being a certified genius, the thing Pauling is known best for is his “quackery” of vitamin mega-dosing.


Basically, it goes like this: Pauling learned that the RDA’s daily requirement for vitamin C was 60mg, and that they came to this number because it is the minimum the human body needs to keep from entering into scurvy.  Take special note of that previous sentence: it’s the amount needed to keep from entering a fully diseased state.  Pauling quotes Dr. Albert Szent Gyorgi (emphasis is mine):

“… So the medical profession said that if you don’t get scurvy, you are all right.  I think this is a very grave error.  Scurvy is not the first sign of a deficiency, but a premortal syndrome, and for full health you need much more, very much more.”

In other words, if you’re taking the RDA vitamin C dose, you’re still deficient, you’re just not going to immediately die from the deficiency.  Uh.  Awesome.

Even now people struggle to dismiss Pauling’s work, citing that there’s no difference between people who took “normal” (read: low) doses and people who took mega-doses.  If you start to dig into these studies, particularly a large Mayo Clinic study that sought to disprove Pauling on almost every claim, you find a personal vendetta against him from another scientist who openly disliked Pauling for being anti-establishment².


I don’t know what’s going on here, but I like it.

I’ve also found the regular truncated version of Pauling’s studies stated as follows: he thinks vitamin C cures cancer.  In fact, Pauling did not believe that.  He merely proved that people lived longer and felt better.

He was among the first scientists to openly advise the public to eat less meat, less sugar and to above all struggle to be happy.  This was during a political and social climate that encouraged the opposite: Meat is American!  Sugar means freedom!  And working hard is a patriotic duty!  And while he spoke gentle platitudes about the positive effects of happiness, underneath was a unapologetic, seething, number crunching genius who’d just as soon tell you that the intellectually sound thing to do would be to defer to his far more intelligent, educated experience.  And I for one am inclined to do so³.

So is my dad, who has been taking mega-doses of vitamins  since the mid-80’s, and to this effect: his doctors are always amazed at his health.  His cholesterol was too low and his doctor advised him to eat more eggs.  He rarely catches a virus.  The diabetes on his side of the family has never touched him.  He’s slender, despite eating a diet consisting almost entirely of spaghetti.  His blood pressure is even-steven.  I’m not saying he’s in perfect health (DAD, THE FOOT?  PLEASE SEE SOMEONE ABOUT IT?), or that these positives are a direct result of the vitamins, but it is worth noting that his parents, at his age, were already quite sick people.  It would seem he’s doing something right.  Of course, he’s batshit crazy, but I blame that on the mercury fillings in his teeth.

¹If you don’t count the fatal run-in with prostate cancer.
² Pauling had a habit of advising people not to go to doctors unless they were shooting blood out a stump from where there arm used to be, because doctors were not educated in what Pauling called orthomolecular medicine, or the careful monitoring of the body’s vitamin, mineral and fatty acid levels as a way to regulate health.  Pauling felt the human body was capable of healing itself of any illness a person might imagine (not any damage – I don’t mean to imply he felt the body could put itself back together after being blown up or anything) provided it had enough resources.  This is not quackery.  We know now that we could regrow lost limbs if we could just learn how to tell our DNA to do so.  Also: a lot of scientists believed that Pauling was a communist.
³I started ramping up to 10,000mg of C a few days ago. I was already taking mega-doses of B. I’ll increase the E and A when I know the C is stable.

May 20th, 2010 | Food Rant

22 Responses to Linus Pauling, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Vitamin C

  1. Judith LaFaver says:

    I’ve been trying to get better about taking my Cs and Es,but this amount almost seems dangerous. I’m not a vitamin expert by any means, but I had a relative overdose on potassium, so it’s made me wary about taking too much of anything.
    Can you overdose on these vitamins?

    • Sunday says:

      I definitely recommend doing your research before taking mega-doses, but everything is in Pauling’s book and are within acceptable study ranges.

      Vitamin C is far and away the safest. In fact, there’s basically no known maximum levels for C. I mean, you’d have to eat a pound or something of it, and even then your problem would be the acid levels in your digestive system and not the absorption of ascorbic acid. It has been known to have a side effect of brief diarrhea that ceases after about 48 hours, and that’s without even stopping the high doses, it’s just a brief transitional reaction. It’s also why I am ramping up slowly: I don’t want to irritate my Crohn’s disease.

      For E, most studies agree that anything up to 1,000IU (the RDA is about 15IU) is safe. Pauling’s personal preference was at 800IU, but even your basic generic grocery store soft gels are usually 400IU.

      For A, it’s a little trickier. You have to listen to your body. The RDA recommendation is 5,000IU, while Pauling is definitely at the high end of the spectrum at 20,000IU. I personally feel like 10,000IU is a nice safe number. Over the years there have been some totally contradictory studies regarding the relationship between A and bone density. One study says it makes bones more brittle, while a long-term study by the World Health Organization shows no such thing. Quite a few vitamin researchers agree that 15,000IU showed no adverse effects.

      There are a lot of B’s to consider (1, 2, 3, 6, and 12, commonly) which the RDA unsurprisingly recommends microscopic doses of. You can overdo the B, but a standard B-complex (that is, all the Bs) from the drug or grocery store is great. B is heavily shed by the body in response to stress and other common factors (smoking and caffeine cause shedding, for example) and needs to be replenished a lot more than people think.

      Minerals, on the other hand, you can readily and dangerously overdose on. This is why you should never mega dose by taking a multi-vitamin. Those weird little trace elements can really stack up.

      All Pauling is suggesting, really, is taking a standard multi-vitamin, taking a lot of extra C, and eating a lot of vegetables. The extra B, E and A are great, but less important. He repeatedly stresses that he only takes 4 pills a day: an extra vitamin E capsule, a B-complex tablet, a standard mineral (multi-vitamin) tablet, and an A capsule. He takes his mega dose of C in the form of crystals mixed into water in the morning.

      A note on the C crystals: they are cheaper than C tablets and easy to find (even Trader Joe’s sells a large bottle of C crystals for about $11), but most importantly, it has no filler from the tablets. It just tastes sour. It is, after all, ascorbic acid. I think it’s refreshing when mixed into water, but then I really like sour stuff. It could be mixed into sweet fruit juice to mitigate the tang.

  2. quagmire says:

    Hi everybody! Some of you either know me outside Burgerdom or have figured out from the banter between us here, that I am Sunday’s batshit crazy, vitamin C mainlinin’, sketti eatin’ machine, handsomemuthaphuckin, single (single ladies take note!) dad.
    Everything she says regarding my vitamin regimen is accurate and true. For some reason of her own (brevity perhaps), she chose not to mention that in the mid-70’s, a wonderful hippie-family (luv ya David, Rosie and kids Meraz!)kidnapped me one day, threw me into their VW micro-bus (what else!) and drove up gorgeous Hwy-1(Pacific Coast Hwy). They refused to tell me where the hell we were going, saying only that I ‘would dig it!’ I feel the need here to add; Dave and Rosie are not of this Earthly plane, they are far-and-away the most extraordinary two people I have ever had the privilege to know. They are simultaneously very strange, other-worldly entities and wonderfully beautiful human-beings. It would take a novel to explain what I mean about those two. I had many life-altering experiences and encounters while hanging in the periphery of their remarkable world.
    Anyway, I digress. We were hurtling hell-bent, along a section of PCH heading South on the ocean side of the road, an area just before you get to the low-rolling hills of San Simeon and Hearst Castle. It is precipitous and scary as shit at normal speeds (read: thousand foot shear cliffs plunging to the surf and boulders below!) with David, driving like his kamikaze, crazy bastard self, in his hippie-mobile-on-steroids He is a mechanical (and maniacal) Mexican genius and had installed a Porsche engine into the ass-end of the fucking Love-bus.
    Suddenly, David cranks the wheel hard-right and barrels down a dirt road barely wide enough for the van. You’d have to see David’s face when he pulls shit like this, he has the most amazing, angelic huge grin.
    About mid-point down this road pathway, sat a reserved, yet beautifully designed, wood-frame house with walls of glass on the ocean side. It sat, perched, as-if by special permission from the God of Gravity, on a small, leveled pad hacked into the cliff-face, in typical nutso Californian-style.
    At this point I asked what the fuck were we doing … and why? David laughed insanely and said, “I met this dude the other day and know you’d love to meet him.” He walked up to the door and rang a buzzer. Shortly, a very distinguished looking gentleman with a shock of white hair opened the door and stepped out. He and David chatted a moment, then David pointed toward the bus. The man walked over to the side I was sitting on, window already rolled down from the summertime weather.
    The gentleman smiled, extended his hand to me and said, “Hello J., happy to meet you. Your friend David id quite the fellow isn’t he?” He turned, said he must attend to some business and walked back to the house, waving as he entered.
    David jumped in, revved the Porsche wannabe Micro-bus and blasted back up the less-than-a-road. I said, “Okay David, is that why you dragged me 200 miles, just to show me some nice old coots cool house … what the hell man?”
    The boxy, aerodynamically challenged V-dub rocketed out onto PCH as David made his famous grin, not even looking at me, saying, “You just shook Linus Pauling’s hand you ungrateful fuck!”
    I swear to Buddha, true story. One of many adventures* with the Meraz family.
    *They once introduced me to a Mestizo Bruho (shaman/medicine man) known as Chuparosa, or Hummingbird bush in Spanish. This was at his wedding, a traditional Mexican/Indian ceremony in the middle of No-Where Baja California. Rosie introduced us and Chuparosa says to me, “Oh, we’ve met J. I looked different to you at the time.” Rosie later told me he was a shape-shifter and could assume many forms, depending on how far he had to travel. His favorite was a Humming-bird, hence his given bruho name. I observed over the course of the weekend festivities that he craved anything sweet and had incredibly quick, flitting movements.
    Maybe someday I’ll tell you guys about the UFO that hovered, its lights ablaze, about 50 feet above their geodesic dome home in the Sierra Mountains one night while I visited. We think it mistook the house for another craft. Also true!

  3. Shirley says:

    I really enjoy your dad’s post. I didn’t really understand his point but sometimes I’m slow like that…he needs his own blog.

  4. Sunday says:

    Oh my god I wish he had a blog. Perhaps setting that up for him is going to be my next big project. Crazy Burger.

  5. halcyon says:

    J! You need Red Dead Redemption! This has nothing to do with anything! Kerpow!

  6. quagmire says:

    Shirley: sorry ’bout that. It was my shortened (heh) way of saying that I actually got to meet Mr. Pauling. I sometimes think I have reverse-Alzheimer’s. I’m starting to remember all kinds of shit as my mind starts to feed on its self. Sunday tolerates me, cuz she’s in my will, she’ll get my cardboard box and string-ball collections.
    I wanted to start a sister-site to Anger Burger and call it Ass-burgers Syndrome, but Sunday nixxed the idea by saying I was an insensitive bastard and she’d kick my cane out from under me if I tried … sigh.
    Hal: Goddammit, I just got Bioshock 2, so I have to play that first. Weird, because I stood at the display case (vault!) and stared at RDR for a long time, wondering if I should get it instead. I’ve read some great reviews of RDR. Next one for sure! BTW: the young dude in Target asked for my license as proof of my age … AND, made me take it OUT of my wallet! (for those who don’t know me, I’m 63, balding, within a white Santa-type beard.) I laughed, asking if he was kidding? He apologized, saying they would fire him if he didn’t enter my info in the system. Target, shame on your inflexible bad self!
    This is fun! Who needs fucking email anyway?

  7. Carrie Anne says:

    Totally bookmarking this. I’m fond of your batshit crazy dad.

    (Hi, Quag!)

    I’m already dosing pretty hard on the C, and have been for awhile, thanks to my never-ending quest to stave off deydration in the form of emergenC packets.

  8. Shirley says:

    Mr. Quagmire I enjoy your crazy self. You are funny like my dad used to be…I miss him. Well actually he lives 4 blocks away and has just been working a lot of overtime so I haven’t seen him in like 4 days and since he’s tired he doesn’t feel like being funny…maybe I have reverse alzheimers? But I think Sunday is probably right Crazy Burger would be a little more sensitive.

  9. Kate says:

    A note on vitamin A: there are two forms of this shit, one comes from animals, the other from vegetables. You CAN overdose on the animal kind, so if you eat much liver, DON’T TAKE MORE A FROM ANIMAL SOURCES. Get the beta carotene, yo. Although who the fuck eats a lot of liver?

    I take at least 2,000 mg of C every day and give the girls 1,000 mg. I wasn’t sick once in the last 12 months, and the girls only had one cold. EXCELSIOR!

    I take 2,000 IU of D3, and so should anyone who lives north of Sacramento. I give the girls 1,000 IU.

    I also take a whole lot of fish oil and an extra vitamin E.

    On another note, I just read a book called Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, in which he argues that it’s refined carbohydrates in particular and excess carbohydrates in general, not saturated fat, that’s making everyone fat and giving them heart disease and most types of cancer and type 2 diabetes by flooding the body with insulin. It’s really just a hypothesis, but it kind of blew my mind. I’m eating significantly less carbohydrate than I did before (just from fruits and vegetables now) and I started eating chicken and I feel SO much better. It’s really, really weird. Just throwing some more quackery in there.

  10. Kate says:

    Baby saw burger totem just now and FREAKED OUT. “Buuuurgggehhhh! Burgehhhhhh!” The kids love them shits.

  11. t.a.o says:

    Wait, taking a shower doesn’t fix everything? : )

  12. Carrie Anne says:

    Kate, I work in a middle school library and several kids there have freaked out over Burger Totem as well.

  13. Sunday says:

    Kate: Yes, thank you for pointing out that vitamin A from animals (specifically the liver) can be toxic in low doses. There are reports of people dying from eating the raw livers of animals while out hunting. Which is weird and I can’t honestly say makes me sad.

    Also, D! I forgot about D. Kate, have you read any on the studies showing that a deficiency in D causes multiple sclerosis? That the PNW has the highest instance of MS in the world? I haven’t read much, but I was wondering if that were a fairly substantiated thing or if it was hooey.

    I actually consume my fish oil in the form of fish, which delights me. As much black cod, small mackerel and salmon as I can consume. Of course, now I have mercury poisoning.

    You know what book kind of blew my mind? The Shangri-La Diet by Seth Roberts. I read about Roberts on a lifehacker-type article and was totally interested, only to find out that the book comes off like a weird diet fad. But the actual science behind it is totally intense! Basically, he argues and presents studies that the tastier food is the more likely we are to gain weight. So that the calories of sugar are not even the problem, but the flavor is, because it’s telling the brain that this is a “time of fat” and to hold on to the calories. He has scads of rat studies showing that rats eating the exact same amount of sweet calories as rats eating unsweetened calories gained twice as much weight. And it doesn’t matter how they are sweetened. Bizarre! I love it. Things get shady when his “diet” recommends basically not eating as the solution to losing weight, but then he’s strikes me as an Asperger’s spectrum type scientist who can’t see the flaw in his logic. Meanwhile the rest of the world would like to eat more than one meal a day.

  14. Sunday says:

    Also: I think I should donate the Burger Totem to a children’s hospital or something; somewhere where it can do good.

  15. Kate says:

    I eat a lot of fish, too. And I take the oil. I’m breastfeeding. Hopefully my baby will be a mutant genius.

    The MS/vitamin D deficiency link is pretty substantiated. All of a sudden a bunch of work is coming out suggesting that high-dose D (2,000 IU on up) is really beneficial, and that previous recommendations have been kind of laughably low. I’ve seen one recommending 4,000 IU during pregnancy. I’ve seen some research on high-dose D significantly reducing relapse frequency of MS, by 50% and more, and some showing greatly reduced or completely cleared active lesions. You might find this personally interesting, because it appears to be doing something to slow or stop autoimmune dysfunction.

    Blood concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D at less than 50 ng/mL is suboptimal (although some say 30 and to that I say “bullshit”). I’m at 27, after a few weeks of high-dose D. I’ll get re-checked in a couple months and adjust my dose as necessary. A friend of mine told me that her doctor said she doesn’t even test for D anymore because everyone up here is deficient. So, yeah…TAKE THE D, FOLKS.

  16. alice says:


    i actually bought a bottle of vitamin c while i was out shopping today because of this post, but the comments have made me want to get D, too.

    are there vitamins that keep you from having crazy mood swings and being a bitch half the time? i need those vitamins. i also need some vitamins that will make me lose that last stubborn 15 pounds and also make it so that i can eat nothing but biscuits and gravy all day and be in perfect health. get back to me ASAP on that one.

  17. Kate says:

    Alice: I think that’s vitamin Wonka.

  18. Carrie Anne says:

    I tried taking fish oil caplets for awhile (since I don’t get the opportunity to eat much fish) but I kept burping fishy-gross burps and I stopped taking them quicklike.

  19. Pingback: Anger Burger » Blog Archive » The Peanut Butter Miracle

  20. Sasha King says:

    Thank you for your post on vitamin C. I take quite a bit as of November and my life and body are much happier because of it.

  21. JackieD says:

    Please be careful of high-dosing Vit A during pregnancy or if you might become pregnant as it contributes to physical deformities (the translation of the word for these defects is “monstrous”). Take no more than in a standard prenatal vitamin.

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