Orthomolecular Therapy, Mega Vitamins and Dietary Supplements might be bad for me?

Food is our first medicine, but it is not our only medicine. In fact once we are sick there is little an apple, a steak or a pile of multi-vitamins can do. Aren’t dietary supplements good for me?  Some claim multivitamins, diet pills and energy boosters are beneficial. However, according to the New England Journal of Medicine an estimated 23,000 people are admitted to the ER each year after ingesting a dietary supplement.[1] There are many dietary supplements on the market. Some do nothing like those created from homeopathy, or next to nothing with marginal risks like the alkaline diet. However, there are others, like mega vitamins that pose a real threat with no benefit. Sometimes the use of megavitamins is called orthomolecular therapy, orthomolecular medicine, molecular therapy and nutritional therapy. If you are considering an orthomolecular option for your dietary needs, I strongly suggest you explore a science-based medical option first.

Orthomolecular therapy is a pseudoscience. Like others of its type  it sneaks into our diet because it guises itself as food while claiming to be effective as regulated medicine. With so many responsibilities and hardships on our plate it is difficult to research everything. We live busy lives and it can be challenging to lead a healthy one, but it is especially important to research the claims of anyone trying to sell you dietary supplements. There is a chance you’re paying a lot of money for nothing, or simply shelling out hard cash to hurt yourself.

So, what is Orthomolecular therapy?

In 1973 Linus Pauling and David Hawkins (a supporter of Applied Kinesiology) published the book: Orthomolecular Psychiatry. It defined the term orthomolecular as the practice of using substances normally present in the body to prevent and treat disease. Pauling and Hawkins claimed nutritional psychiatry could treat diseases like schizophrenia, the common cold and cancer, because they believed these diseases were caused by nutrient deficiencies.[2]

Pauling rallied the public to believe mega doses of vitamin C could be used to prevent colds and even fight cancer. Yet to this day there is no science-based evidence supporting this claim. Using beta-carotene, vitamins A and E to treat cancer has been found to do the opposite, often resulting in an increased risk of dying from cancer. [3] It has even been found  that vitamin C has no effect at all in the treatment of cancer. [4]  Sloan Kettering Cancer Center says: “Do  not take vitamin C if you are a cancer patient undergoing radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Vitamin C may interfere with these treatments and lessen their effect.” They continue by stating: most large-scale trials did not find vitamin C supplements useful in preventing cancers.”[5]

Are supplements ever good for me?

In specific instances, your medical doctor may prescribe dietary supplements. When I say medical doctor, this does not include acupuncturists, chiropractors and other naturopaths. If you want proven medical benefit consult those with a science-based medical degree that you trust. For help finding the right doctor click here. The link details specific information for people with NET cancer, but it may be boiled down into any medical specialist.

Can you give me an idea of who might need dietary supplements? Scurvy, pellagra and beriberi are diseases caused by nutrient deficiency. Though rare in the United States and Canada these deficiencies do occur. A doctor may adjust a patient’s diet or prescribe supplements to treat these illnesses. Food is the most effective method of treatment because it’s less toxic and leads to fewer nutritional imbalances than supplements. [6] 

Today the supplement industry encourages consumers to add Multivitamin/mineral pills to their diet to treat nutrient deficiencies, prevent chronic disease and promote health. However according to a study in 2006 Multivitamin/mineral pills did not reduce the risk of chronic disease.[7]

There are specific instances when someone might need a supplement, these include, [6]

  • Those who suffer with nutrient deficiencies or consume less than 1,600 calories a day.
  • Vegetarians, vegans and older adults with atrophic gastritis may require vitamin B12.
  • People who are lactose intolerant or don’t consume enough dairy may require calcium.
  • Infants may need vitamin D, iron and fluoride.
  • Pregnant women may require folate and iron.
  • Elderly individuals may need vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
  • People with heavily pigmented skin or those who do not consume enough milk may require vitamin D.
  • Anyone with a condition that interferes with the intake, absorption, metabolism or excretion of nutrients.
  • Individuals taking medicines that interfere with the body’s use of nutrients.

People who should not take supplements are, [6]

  • Men and postmenopausal women should not take iron supplements.
  • Smokers should avoid beta-carotene supplements given that high doses have been associated with increased lung cancer and mortality.
  • Postmenopausal women should not take vitamin A supplements.
  • Surgery patients should note take vitamin E, because it acts like a blood thinner.


  • [1] <http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1504267>
  • [2] <http://skepdic.com/orthomolecular.html>
  • [3] <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2004/oct/01/medicineandhealth.lifeandhealth1>
  • [4] <https://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/nov/17/cancer-vitamins-risk-study-science>
  • [5] <https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/vitamin-c>
  • [6] <page 321-332, Rose, Nedah, editor. Understanding Nutrition. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2013>
  • [7] <Huang H-Y, Caballero B, Chang S, Alberg AJ, Semba RD, Schneyer C, et al. Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements and Prevention of Chronic Disease. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 139. (Prepared by The Johns Hopkins University Evidence-based Practice Center under Contract No. 290-02-0018). AHRQ Publication No. 06-E012. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. May 2006.>

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