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Megavitamin therapy is the use of large doses of vitamins, often many times greater than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) in the attempt to prevent or treat diseases. Megavitamin therapy is typically used in alternative medicine by practitioners who call their approach orthomolecular medicine, but also used in mainstream medicine for rare genetic conditions that respond to megadoses of vitamins.[1]

Megavitamin therapy
Claims Health effects from very high doses of vitamins.
Related scientific disciplines vitamins, dietary supplements
Year proposed 1930s
Notable proponents Frederick Klenner, Linus Pauling
Pseudoscientific concepts

Nutrients may be useful in preventing and treating some illnesses,[2] but the conclusions of medical research are that the broad claims of disease treatment by advocates of megavitamin therapy are unsubstantiated by the available evidence.[2][3][4] It is generally accepted that doses of any vitamin greatly in excess of nutritional requirements will result either in toxicity or in the excess simply being metabolised - evidence in favour of vitamin supplementation supports only doses in the normal range.[5][6][7] Critics have described some aspects of orthomolecular medicine as food faddism or even quackery.[8][9][10] Research on nutrient supplementation in general suggests that some nutritional supplements might be beneficial, and that others might be harmful;[11][12][13] several specific nutritional therapies are associated with an increased likelihood of the condition they are meant to prevent.[14]


Multivitamin vs megavitaminEdit

Megavitamin therapy must be distinguished from the usual 'vitamin supplementation' approach of traditional multivitamin pills. Megavitamin doses are far higher than the levels of vitamins ordinarily available through western diets. A study of 161,000 individuals (post-menopausal women) provided, in the words of the authors, "convincing evidence that multivitamin use has little or no influence on the risk of common cancers, cardiovascular disease, or total mortality in postmenopausal women".[15]


In the 1930s and 1940s, some scientific and clinical evidence suggested that there might be beneficial uses of vitamins C, E, and B3 in large doses. Beginning in the 1930s, the Shutes in Canada developed a megadose vitamin E therapy for cardiovascular and circulatory complaints, naming it the "Shute protocol".[16] However, a 2004 meta-analysis showed no association between vitamin E supplementation and cardiovascular events (nonfatal stroke or myocardial infarction) or cardiovascular mortality.[17]

Tentative experiments in the 1930s[18] with larger doses of vitamin C were superseded by Frederick Klenner's development of megadose intravenous vitamin C treatments for polio and other viruses in the 1940s.[19] William Kaufman published articles in the 1940s that detailed his treatment of arthritis with frequent, high doses of niacinamide.[20]

In 1954, Rudolf Altschul and Abram Hoffer applied large doses of the immediate release form of niacin (Vitamin B3) to treat hypercholesterolemia.[21] In a 1956 publication entitled Biochemical Individuality, Roger J. Williams introduced concepts for individualized megavitamins and nutrients.[22] Megavitamin therapies were also publicly advocated by Linus Pauling in the late 1960s.[23] In 1956, experimental results suggested niacin could be useful in the treatment of high cholesterol, results that were confirmed in 1986.[24]

Usage of therapyEdit

Although megavitamin therapies still largely remain outside of the structure of evidence-based medicine, they are increasingly used by patients, with or without the approval of their treating physicians, often after recommendations by practitioners of orthomolecular and naturopathic medicine.[25]

In 2008, researchers established that higher vitamin C intake reduces serum uric acid levels and may be useful in the prevention of gout.[26]

The proposed efficacy of various megavitamin therapies to reduce cancer risk has been contradicted by results of one clinical trial.[27] A review of clinical trials in the treatment of colds with small and large doses of Vitamin C has established that there is no evidence that it decreases the incidence of common colds.[28] After 33 years of research, it is still not established whether vitamin C can be used as a treatment for cancer.[29]

While some vitamins have no known tolerable upper intake level, others, including vitamins A[30] and D,[30] are known to be toxic at high doses.


Although Linus Pauling is known for highly respectable research in chemistry and biochemistry, he is also known for promoting the consumption of vitamin C in large doses. Pauling wrote multiple books endorsing vitamin C megadosing. Although he claimed and stood firm in his claim that consuming over 1,000 mg is helpful for one’s immune system when fighting a head cold, the results of empirical research do not align with this view. Researchers Vitetta, Sali, Paspaliaris, and Reavley (2002) completed a double blind randomized control study with 400 healthy participants. Throughout the 18 month experiment, there were 189 reported cases of head colds. Researchers found that there were no significant differences between the medication groups, and taking 1,000 mg of vitamin C at the first signs of a head cold did not help (Vitetta et al., 2002).[31] There are also some minor yet unwanted ailments associated with vitamin C megadosing. These ailments were first noted in 1981 by Dr. Fong, who said that large doses of vitamin C can cause diarrhea and urethritis for limited amounts of time (Fong, 1981).[32]

Despite some research supporting vitamin megadosing for certain conditions, research has also revealed that in high levels, fat soluble vitamins A and D can be toxic. A study by Bothra, Gupta, and Jain (2016) found that a large dose of vitamin D helped children with nutritional rickets; however, they noted concerns about vitamin D toxicity. Specifically, 1.5 months after the injection, some children had toxic levels of vitamin D (Bothra et al., 2016).[33]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Menolascino FJ, Donaldson JY, Gallagher TF, Golden CJ, Wilson JE (1988). "Orthomolecular therapy: its history and applicability to psychiatric disorders". Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 18 (3): 133–50. doi:10.1007/BF00709727. PMID 2898324. 
  2. ^ a b "ACS : Orthomolecular Medicine". American Cancer Society. 2007-06-19. Archived from the original on 2008-03-29. Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  3. ^ Aaronson S, et al. (2003). "Cancer medicine". Cancer medicine 6 (Frei, Emil; Kufe, Donald W.; Holland, James F., eds). Hamilton, Ont: BC Decker. p. 76. ISBN 1-55009-213-8. 
  4. ^ Nutrition Committee; Canadian Paediatric Society (1 January 1990). "Megavitamin and megamineral therapy in childhood. Nutrition Committee, Canadian Paediatric Society". CMAJ. 143 (10): 1009–1013. PMC 1452516 . PMID 1699646. 
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  7. ^ Novella, S: Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths: What We Think We Know May Be Hurting Us, The Great Courses
  8. ^ Jarvis WT (1983). "Food faddism, cultism, and quackery". Annu. Rev. Nutr. 3: 35–52. doi:10.1146/ PMID 6315036. 
  9. ^ Jukes, T.H. (1990). "Nutrition Science from Vitamins to Molecular Biology". Annual Review of Nutrition. 10 (1): 1–20. doi:10.1146/ PMID 2200458.  A short summary is in the journal's preface.
  10. ^ Braganza, S.F.; Ozuah, P.O. (2005). "Fad Therapies". Pediatrics in Review. 26 (10): 371–376. doi:10.1542/pir.26-10-371. PMID 16199591. 
  11. ^ "NIH State-of-the-Science Conference Statement on Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements and Chronic Disease Prevention". NIH Consens State Sci Statements. 23 (2): 1–30. 2006. PMID 17332802. 
  12. ^ Huang HY, Caballero B, Chang S, et al. (September 2006). "The efficacy and safety of multivitamin and mineral supplement use to prevent cancer and chronic disease in adults: a systematic review for a National Institutes of Health state-of-the-science conference". Ann. Intern. Med. 145 (5): 372–85. doi:10.1001/archinte.145.2.372. PMID 16880453. 
  13. ^ Bjelakovic G, Nikolova D, Gluud LL, Simonetti RG, Gluud C (2012). "Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases". Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 3: CD007176. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007176.pub2. PMID 22419320. 
  14. ^ Satia JA, Littman A, Slatore CG, Galanko JA, White E (2009). "Long-term Use of {beta}-Carotene, Retinol, Lycopene, and Lutein Supplements and Lung Cancer Risk: Results From the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) Study". American Journal of Epidemiology. 169 (7): 815–28. doi:10.1093/aje/kwn409. PMC 2842198 . PMID 19208726. 
  15. ^ Neuhouser ML, Wassertheil-Smoller S, Thomson C, et al. (February 2009). "Multivitamin use and risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease in the Women's Health Initiative cohorts". Arch. Intern. Med. 169 (3): 294–304. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2008.540. PMC 3868488 . PMID 19204221. 
  16. ^ Vogelsang A, Shute E, Shute W (February 1948). "Some medical uses of vitamin E". Med World (New York). 161 (2): 83–9. PMID 18911314. 
  17. ^ Eidelman, RS; Hollar, D; Hebert, PR; Lamas, GA; Hennekens, CH (2004). "Randomized trials of vitamin E in the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease". Archives of Internal Medicine. 164 (14): 1552–1556. doi:10.1001/archinte.164.14.1552. PMID 15277288. 
  18. ^ Jungeblut, CW (1937). "Vitamin C Therapy and Prophylaxis in Experimental Poliomyelitis". The Journal of Experimental Medicine. 65 (1): 127–146. doi:10.1084/jem.65.1.127. PMC 2133474 . PMID 19870585. 
  19. ^ Klenner, Fred R. (July 1949). "The treatment of poliomyelitis and other virus diseases with vitamin C". Southern Medicine & Surgery. pp. 209–14. PMID 18147027. 
  20. ^ KAUFMAN W (July 1953). "Niacinamide therapy for joint mobility; therapeutic reversal of a common clinical manifestation of the normal aging process". Conn State Med J. 17 (7): 584–9. PMID 13060032. 
  21. ^ ALTSCHUL R, HOFFER A (April 1960). "The Effect of Nicotinic Acid on Hypercholesterolæmia". Can Med Assoc J. 82 (15): 783–5. PMC 1938010 . PMID 13792994. 
  22. ^ Williams, Roger Lawrence (1998). Biochemical Individuality. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-87983-893-0. 
  23. ^ Stone, Irwin (1982). The healing factor: "vitamin C" against disease. New York: Perigee Books. ISBN 0-399-50764-7. 
  24. ^ Sanford M, Curran MP (2008). "Niacin extended-release/simvastatin". Drugs. 68 (16): 2373–86. doi:10.2165/0003495-200868160-00008. PMID 18973399. 
  25. ^ Richardson MA, Sanders T, Palmer JL, Greisinger A, Singletary SE (July 2000). "Complementary/alternative medicine use in a comprehensive cancer center and the implications for oncology". J. Clin. Oncol. 18 (13): 2505–14. PMID 10893280. 
  26. ^ Choi, Hyon K.; Xiang Gao; Gary Curhan (March 9, 2009). "Vitamin C Intake and the Risk of Gout in Men – A Prospective Study". Archives of Internal Medicine. 169 (5): 502–507. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2008.606. PMC 2767211 . PMID 19273781. 
  27. ^ Lin J, Cook NR, Albert C, et al. (January 2009). "Vitamins C and E and Beta Carotene Supplementation and Cancer Risk: A Randomized Controlled Trial". J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 101 (1): 14–23. doi:10.1093/jnci/djn438. PMC 2615459 . PMID 19116389. 
  28. ^ Hemilä, Harri; Chalker, Elizabeth (2013-01-31). "Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1): CD000980. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4. ISSN 1469-493X. PMID 23440782. 
  29. ^ Cabanillas, F (2010). "Vitamin C and cancer: what can we conclude--1,609 patients and 33 years later?". Puerto Rico health sciences journal. 29 (3): 215–7. PMID 20799507. 
  30. ^ a b Snodgrass SR (1992). "Vitamin neurotoxicity". Mol. Neurobiol. 6 (1): 41–73. doi:10.1007/BF02935566. PMID 1463588. 
  31. ^ Vitetta, Luis; Sali, Avni; Paspaliaris, B.; Reavley, Nicola J. (2002-03-18). "Megadose vitamin C in treatment of the common cold: a randomised controlled trial". The Medical Journal of Australia. 176 (6): 298–299;. ISSN 0025-729X. PMID 11999270. 
  32. ^ Fong, Towie (1981-03-01). "Problems Associated With Megadose Vitamin C Therapy". Western Journal of Medicine. 134 (3): 264. ISSN 0093-0415. PMC 1272631 . PMID 18748836. 
  33. ^ Bothra, Meenakshi; Gupta, Nandita; Jain, Vandana (2016-06-01). "Effect of intramuscular cholecalciferol megadose in children with nutritional rickets". Journal of pediatric endocrinology & metabolism: JPEM. 29 (6): 687–692. doi:10.1515/jpem-2015-0031. ISSN 2191-0251. PMID 26913455. 

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