The Ortho Molecular Answer

Victoria MD wins prize for theories on megavitamins

Victoria MD wins prize for theories on megavitamins

- by Cindy E. Harnett, Times Colonist staff


A retired Victoria psychiatrist who helped develop a mega-vitamin therapy for schizophrenia and other illnesses half a century ago was recognized with a $125,000 prize in alternative medicine this week.


“I was really quite surprised,” said Dr. Abram Hoffer, 90.  “It was like the Oscars.  I had no idea I was going to win.”


The judges of the first Dr. Rogers Prize for Excellence in Complementary and Alternative Medicine wrote: “His stubborn pursuit of non-toxic orthomolecular [megavitamin] approaches to mental and physical disorders has helped thousands of patients with conditions ranging from schizophrenia to cancer.”


Hoffer, who worked with mega doses of niacin and vitamin C, attracted praise but says his relationship with the College of Physicians and Surgeons “wasn’t friendly.”  Hoffer recalls being attacked in journals and the media by skeptical medical colleagues, although his hypothesis that mega-doses of vitamins could help treat the symptoms of schizophrenia was later advanced by Nobel Prize-winning physician Dr. Linus Pauling.


Although he no longer practices medicine, the author of about 30 books and 600 papers in medical journals says he is still busy consulting, writing and researching.


One of six children, Hoffer was born on a Saskatchewan farm in 1917 and completed his first degree in agricultural chemistry.  His master’s and PhD in biochemistry were based on research into the vitamin content of cereals, and his focus soon shifted to human nutrition.


Armed with a medical degree from Toronto, he became director of psychiatric research for Saskatchewan in 1950. 


He’ll never forget his time practicing at three psychiatric hospitals in Saskatchewan.  “It was absolutely awful and once you got in, you never got out,” he said in a phone interview yesterday.


Half the 5,000 mental patients in Saskatchewan were schizophrenics, and at the time, experts blamed the illness on a host of causes, including homosexuality, masturbation, colon infection and more.


Hoffer was given the job of director of psychiatric research, and with a “free hand,” spearheaded the use of mega-vitamin therapy.


He was joined by British-born research psychiatrist Dr. Humphrey Osmond, and the two became psychedelic pioneers – and guinea pigs – bent on discovering why hallucinogens created symptoms resembling schizophrenia.


The team’s first breakthrough came when they developed a theory that people who undergo stress sometimes produce excess adrenaline, which oxidizes into adrenochrome.  The latter chemical has psychedelic properties they suggested could induce schizophrenia.


Next, he theorized that niacin (vitamin B-3) could counteract the oxidation of adrenaline into adrenochrome, protect brain receptors and reduce adrenaline stress.  B vitamins are now commonly referred to as stress busters, but back then, the theory was revolutionary.  Hoffer himself has taken three grams a day for 50 years.


“It keeps me alive, active and busy,” he said, noting the amount of niacin in the average multivitamin is insignificant. 


Hoffer then came up with the idea of combining niacin and the antioxidant vitamin C.


Hoffer will share a $250,000 prize pot with Dr. Alastair Cunningham of Toronto, creator of The Healing Journey, a non-profit program that helps cancer patients use relaxation and mental imagery to cope with the disease.


The two were selected from a field of 57 nominees by an independent jury of international medical experts.


While the judges had hoped to settle on a single winner, Hoffer said his prize should be shared with all the colleagues who worked with him throughout the years and the patients who allowed him “to get them well using vitamins.”

- with files from CanWest News Service