Linus Pauling: Father of the Megavitamin Craze
October 9, 2018
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
The following is excerpted from the new book The Bible, Diet, and Alternative Health Care, available in print as well as in free eBook formats from Way of Life Literature.
Linus Pauling (1901-1994) was both a great scientist and a great quack, which is a loud warning that anyone can fall to the siren call of quackery.

Pauling taught at the California Institute of Technology for more than 40 years and was the first person to be the recipient of two unshared Nobel prizes. He also won the National Medal of Science, the Medal for Merit, awarded by the U.S. president, and received honorary degrees from Cambridge, the University of London, and the University of Paris. He appeared on the cover of
Time magazine and was “hailed as one of the greatest scientists who had ever lived.”

In 1954, when only 30 years old, Pauling won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research into chemical bonds. The same year he received the Langmuir Prize for the most outstanding young chemist in the United States, became the youngest person elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and was made a full professor at Caltech. When asked to comment on Pauling’s findings, Albert Einstein shrugged his shoulders and said it was too complicated for him.

In 1962, Pauling won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in promoting the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

But at age 65, at a time when men typically begin to consider their mortality with greater seriousness, Pauling became the proponent of taking mega doses of vitamin C for health and longevity. It marked his conversion to quackery, and his descent into the depths thereof continued until his death.

He was influenced by Irwin Stone, a man who called himself a doctor but was credentialed only through a non-accredited correspondence school. Stone recommended that Pauling take 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C a day for longevity.

In pursuit of longevity and health, which is the common desire of mankind, Pauling tried the routine and testified that he felt much better and no longer suffered colds. He eventually increased his daily intake of vitamin C to 18,000 milligrams.

In his 1970 book
Vitamin C and the Common Cold, Pauling recommended 3,000 milligrams daily and claimed that the cold would be eradicated. He saw vitamin C usage as “a step toward a better world.”

The sale of vitamin C exploded. By the mid-1970s 50 million Americans were taking the supplement. It was the dawn of the vitamin/supplement industry as a multi-billion dollar behemoth.

But multiple medical studies have failed to find correlation between vitamin C and the prevention or cure of the common cold.

“In a July 2007 study, researchers wanted to discover whether taking 200 milligrams or more of vitamin C daily could reduce the frequency, duration, or severity of a cold. After reviewing 60 years of clinical research, they found that when taken after a cold starts, vitamin C supplements do not make a cold shorter or less severe. When taken daily, vitamin C very slightly shortened cold duration--by 8% in adults and by 14% in children. …

“According to this research, the average adult who suffers with a cold for 12 days a year would still suffer for about 11 days a year if that person took a high dose of vitamin C every day during that year. For the average child who suffers about 28 days of cold illness a year, taking daily high-dose vitamin C would still likely mean about 24 days of cold illness.

“When vitamin C was tested for treatment of colds in 7 separate studies, it was found to be no more effective than placebo at shortening the duration of cold symptoms” (“Vitamin C for the Common Cold,” WebMD).

Pauling claimed that the the colds he had previously suffered several times a year “no longer occurred,” but this was a myth. Though he continued to experience cold symptoms, he attributed these to “allergies” (“The Vitamin Myth,”
The Atlantic, Jul. 19, 2013). Quack, quack.

Pauling did not stop with vitamin C being a cure for the common cold. He went on to claim that it can cure 75% of cancer cases. Cancer patients began to demand high doses of vitamin C, citing the “Nobel Prize winner” as the authority.

Pauling predicted that vitamin C would usher in a new age of longevity. “[L]ife expectancy will be 100 to 110 years, and in the course of time, the maximum age might be 150 years.”

But extensive medical tests found no benefit from vitamin C for cancer patients. Charles Moertel of the Mayo Clinic, who performed two different tests, said, “We were unable to show a therapeutic benefit of high-dose vitamin C.”

Pauling absolutely refused to accept the results of the tests, but “subsequent studies have consistently shown that vitamin C doesn’t treat cancer” (Ibid., “The Vitamin Myth”).

Next, Pauling claimed that mega doses of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, plus selenium and beta-carotene, could treat most diseases, including heart disease, mental illness, hepatitis, polio, tuberculosis, mumps, measles, chickenpox, meningitis, arthritis, diabetes, strokes, tetanus, typhoid, leprosy, rabies, heat prostration, altitude sickness, radiation poisoning, warts, shingles, glaucoma, kidney failure, influenza, bladder ailments, stress, snakebites, AIDS. even aging.

The secret, Pauling claimed, was the property of
antioxidants, which has since become a byword in the vitamin/supplement industry. Antioxidants are produced by the body to counteract the negative effects of free radicals that are a byproduct of oxidation (the process whereby the mitochondria within cells convert food to energy). Antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables (specifically, selenium, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, and E), and studies have shown that people who eat more of these have a lower incidence of cancer and heart disease and live longer. It is really just a matter of a common-sense balanced diet and avoidance of unhealthy “junk food” consisting of massive amounts of fats, carbohydrates, sugar, and salt.

The proponents of megadoses of vitamins reason that since the natural supply of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables has proven to be effectual for good health,
supplemental antioxidants should be even more effective.

That does sound reasonable on its face. In fact, though,
dozens of scientific studies have shown that megadoses of vitamins have the potential to be detrimental to good health.

This actually makes good sense to me, since
megadoses of vitamins are not natural! It makes sense to me that in God’s good plan, man’s needs are satisfied through the normal intake of a simple healthy diet.

Multiple, extensive studies have shown that those taking vitamins and supplements, particularly in mega doses, were “more likely to die from lung cancer or heart disease than those who didn’t take them.”

This was the conclusion of a 1994 study of 29,000 Finnish men, a 1996 study by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center of 18,000 people, a 2004 study by the University of Copenhagen of 170,000 people, a 2005 study by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine of 136,000 people, a 2007 study by the National Cancer Institute of 11,000 men, a 2011 study by the University of Minnesota of 39,000 older women, and a 2011 study by the Cleveland Clinic of 36,000 men. In the latter study, those who took vitamin E had a 17 percent greater risk of prostate cancer.

These were large studies all reached the same conclusion.
“We could not find evidence that antioxidant supplements can prevent gastrointestinal cancers; on the contrary, they seem to increase overall mortality” (University of Copenhagen, 2004).

A 2005 study examined 9,000 people who took high-dose vitamin E to prevent cancer. The study, published in the
Journal of the American Medical Association, found that those who took the supplement were “more likely to develop heart failure than those who didn’t.”

The National Cancer Institute study found that those who took multivitamins were twice as likely to die from advanced prostate cancer.

The University of Minnesota study found that those who took multivitamins and supplements “died at rates higher than those who didn’t.”

A 2008 review of all existing studies involving more than 230,000 people “found that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease.”

“How could this be? Given that free radicals clearly damage cells--and given that people who eat diets rich in substances that neutralize free radicals are healthier--why did studies of supplemental antioxidants show they were harmful? The most likely explanation is that free radicals aren’t as evil as advertised. Although it’s clear that free radicals can damage DNA and disrupt cell membranes, that’s not always a bad thing. People need free radicals to kill bacteria and eliminate new cancer cells. But when people take large doses of antioxidants, the balance between free radical production and destruction might tip too much in one direction, causing an unnatural state in which the immune system is less able to kill harmful invaders. Researchers have called this ‘the antioxidant paradox.’ Whatever the reason, the data are clear: high doses of vitamins and supplements increase the risk of heart disease and cancer; for this reason, not a single national or international organization responsible for the public’s health recommends them” (“The Vitamin Myth,”
The Atlantic, Jul. 19, 2013).

It is instructive to learn that the multiplication of the scientific evidence against the use of megavitamin consumption has not harmed vitamin sales.

In 2017, the nutritional supplement industry in the United States grossed an estimated $36 billion, a massive 63% increase over the $23.8 billion grossed in 2007 (

Joseph Fortunato, chief executive of General Nutrition Centers, said, “The thing to do with [these reports] is just ride them out. We see no impact on our business.”

One reason that scientific evidence has no affect on the vitamin business is that the population is rapidly aging (the Boomer generation) and senior citizens are searching for cures and elixirs to stave off the effects of old age.

Linus Pauling was raised Lutheran, but he died an atheist.

Pauling’s wife died in 1981 of stomach cancer, and he died in 1994 of prostate cancer.

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