Linus Pauling is the only person to have won more than two Nobel Prizes in different fields. For some reason, Linus started taking very large doses of vitamin C and wrote a bestseller in 1970 on Common cold, vitamin C and ‘Flu. Even today, people buy and swallow vitamins, while wisdom says vitamin substitutes other than the ones in food are bad for health
“What by a straight path cannot be reached by crooked ways is never won.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I used to meet Linus Carl Pauling every time I went to the Bay Area in California where my daughter lives-not far from where he used to live in Palo Alto till his death. I had a great admiration for him as my education was what our conventional textbooks write about these “greats”. I used to spend my mornings in his house. He was a pleasant man at 95 and had a clear thinking. What surprised me was that he used to have large barrels of sodium ascorbate, which he would scoop out now and then to drink it mixed with water. He would offer that to me also in place of midmorning tea. I never used to like it and had serious doubts about its validity even then. Most of our talk used to centre round vitamin C and its divine powers to cure all ills from common cold to cancer. When a double unshared Nobel Laureate opines thus, ordinary mortals like me are liable to be influenced. He used to write extensively on vitamin C and used to lecture all over the place.
Linus became famous at the young age of 30 when he got his first Nobel in 1954 for “his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances". Pauling summarized his work on the chemical bond in The Nature of the Chemical Bond, one of the most influential chemistry books. Even today, many modern scientific papers and articles in important journals cite this work, more than 70 years after the first publication.
As an aside, my mentor and one of the greatest brains of this century, Prof Rustum Roy of Penn State University-fame did a stint with Linus Pauling at Berkeley. In 1954, when Linus got his first Nobel, Rustum Roy published his landmark paper on the “Sol-Gel” technic, the method to extract Nano particles. This paper has been cited 78,000 times to date. Although, he was nominated 21 times for the Nobel, the wise Nobel Committee ignored him and honoured some of his own students instead! You can guess why.
How did Linus Pauling, such a brilliant person, become almost a quack blindly believing in Vitamin C’s prowess in treating all diseases even in the face of multitude of studies showing not only its uselessness but its dangers in large doses?
In between, he became a fanatic anti-nuclear power activist and was partly responsible for the 1962 nuclear weapons ban treaty. In this, he unknowingly demonised that father of American Hydrogen Bomb, Edward Teller. Thus, he got his second Nobel Peace Prize. He was one of the four who got double Nobel prizes.
Edward Teller had significantly contributed to science including medical science. While trying to detonate the first hydrogen bomb in the Nevada desert, he had recorded the health status of Nevada citizens also that of the neighbouring states. One year after the test, Teller observed that those in the periphery, who got a miniscule dose of ionising radiation, had better health than before but those who got a bigger dose living close by did very badly.
Teller called this effect Hormesis, where a very small dose of any substance can be bio-positive but the larger dose of the same could be bio-negative. He elegantly demonstrated that and published his data. Linus attacked him for that and said that he was wrongly destroying the health of the population. This added to the weight of his Peace Nobel for demonising Teller and his own colleague, Edward Calabrese, his director of research.
Calabrese’s sin was that one of his doctoral students worked on vitamin C and showed that while a small dose of vitamin C in nature (in a tomato) is strongly bio-positive, even a 100 mg vitamin C tablet becomes strongly bio-negative, thus for the first time showing Hormesis in chemical drugs! Linus was mad at both the student and his guide, his own right hand man. Calabrese was dismissed and the student did not get his PhD. Linus even filed a civil liabilities case against Calabrese, which was settled after Linus died and his university had to pay ten million to Calabrese and reinstate him as Distinguished Professor of Chemistry.
What surprises most is how on earth, did Linus arrogantly go against all sane studies on vitamin C and vitamins in general as being bad for health to advocate Vitamin C in horse doses for cancer and many other illnesses including heart attacks? Nobody knows but the story is the same even now.
In 2011, Minnesota University researchers showed that patients on multivitamins died at a faster rate and later Cleveland Clinic study showed that vitamin E increased prostate cancer deaths in men. At least 15 studies done in leading US universities, in London, Scotland and Netherland disproved Linus’s theory without exception -100% negative data. Even a surgeon in Scotland wrote to Linus that vitamin C had nothing to do with cancer, but Linus would not budge.
In 1962, Linus got a letter from one Irwin Stone, who advised him to take large doses of vitamin C to ward of his constant colds. Stone was only a small time chemist but Linus strongly believed that Stone was a doctor and called him so. For some unknown reason, Linus started taking very large doses of vitamin C and wrote a book in 1970 on Common cold, vitamin C and ‘Flu.
This became a best seller and people lined up to buy Vitamin C and the chemists could not keep pace. The manufacturers got double, triple, and quadruple sales. They happily called that as “Linus Pauling Effect.” Even today mad people buy multivitamins, C, E, D etc. and swallow them while the present wisdom says that vitamin substitutes other than the ones in food are bad for health. In India doctors prescribe vitamins for their patients, mostly for the benefit of the drug lobby! God save man!
“Lawyers have to make a living, and can only do so by inducing people to believe that a straight line is crooked.” -Alfred Nobel
(Professor Dr BM Hegde
, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes, chairman of the State Health Society's Expert Committee, Govt of Bihar, Patna. He is former Vice Chancellor of Manipal University at Mangalore and former professor for Cardiology of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London.)