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Magic bullets

Reading time: 14 minutes

The late Abram Hoffer, Linus Pauling’s colleague who invented ‘orthomolecular’ medicine, argues that most ‘problem’ children can be cured essentially with a single vitamin

Jay, six years old, was forced into the modern psychiatric system from which he was rescued three years later by Marty McKay, PhD, a clinical psychologist, and from Child Welfare by a court order. By then he had seen 60 physicians and been diagnosed with dozens of diagnoses, including mental retardation, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette’s syndrome, oppositional-defiant disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, conduct disorder, and the then-current favourite, childhood-onset bipolar mood disorder.

He was treated with combinations of toxic drugs with no evidence they were therapeutic. By the end of his treatment programme, he was on methylphenidate (Ritalin), divalproex sodium (Depakote) and quetiapine fumarate (Seroquel), and was only saved by the relentless effort of Dr McKay, who insisted that the University of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children take him under care away from his psychiatrist. It took 10 months to get him off the drugs. He had stopped growing. Since then, he has regained his health. The long-term effect of this massive long-term toxic drugging is not known.

Rebecca Riley was not so lucky. She died from an overdose of two of the drugs also prescribed for Jay. This tragic event was featured on the CBS 60 Minutes TV report ‘What Killed Rebecca Riley?’

Rebecca was the youngest child in a dysfunctional family living in Hull, Massachusetts. Her two older siblings were already on massive drug medication. At age two and a half, she was diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder. She was prescribed Seroquel, a favourite antipsychotic for adult schizophrenic patients; Depakote, an anticonvulsant normally just given to adults; and clonidine (Catapres), a drug for lowering blood pressure.

On December 13, 2006, she was found dead, lying on the floor near her mother’s bed from an overdose
of drugs. Her parents were both charged with murder and given life imprisonment, her father without possibility of parole.
On December 12, Rebecca appeared to have a cold. Her mother gave her some acetaminophen (Tylenol; paracetamol) and more clonidine because she didn’t go to sleep. Then she laid her down beside her on the floor and fell asleep. When her mother woke up, Rebecca was dead.

The publicity given to Rebecca’s death spurred Massachusetts into the beginnings of regulatory action. A Boston Globe staff journalist reported, “Although cases like the overdose of Rebecca Riley are rare, the prescription of psychiatric drugs to young children is not. Doctors last year prescribed clonidine-a drug sometimes used to treat hyperactivity that was found in lethal quantities in the girl’s bloodstream-to 955 children under age seven in MassHealth [a public-assistance health-insurance programme]. Doctors also prescribed antipsychotic drugs, which raise the risk of diabetes and obesity, to 536 children under age seven . . . The largest provider of mental health services for MassHealth-Massachusetts Behavioral Health-identified 35 preschoolers in the first three months of the system who were taking three psychiatric medications or one antipsychotic drug.”

In January 2011, Tufts Medical Center, which insured the doctor who prescribed the psychiatric drugs for Rebecca Riley, awarded her estate $2.5 million.

The latest mass trend is to diagnose children as bipolar. Today in the United States there are one million children taking toxic adult drugs for their bipolar disorder, diagnosed as early as age three. In a review article, Dr Anne Duffy, of the department of psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, reported that, as currently diagnosed, bipolar disorder “does not manifest as such typically until at least adolescence” and, after reviewing 41 published reports, she concluded that it does not, in fact, exist in children.

One study found a significant association between the amount of tranquillizers (sedatives) taken over years and cerebral cortex atrophy. The estimated risk of atrophy increases by 6.4 per cent for each additional 10,000 mg of tranquillizer drug.3 Other research has shown that tranquillizers increase subcortical volumes in schizophrenic patients, and higher volumes are associated with more severe symptoms. These changes were not present in patients not taking such medication. The researchers, from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, suggested that these changes were in response to receptor blockade and could decrease the effect of treatment.4 In other words, the drugs damage the brain and lower the odds that patients can ever recover.

At age two, children’s brains start to develop rapidly and reach the adult brain weight by age five. Between ages two and five, the brain triples in weight; this is the period when children are more impulse than control. They have to learn ways of dealing with others and with aggression so they can become good members of society, but this process is curtailed if they are treated with these powerful drugs.

How can the developing brain cope when inhibited by toxic drugs? It’s well known that children are much more sensitive to drugs, even to the additives that are present in our food. Forty years ago, Dr Ben Feingold, a well-known and respected allergist, reported that additives made some children develop these problems. His work was totally rejected except by the parents who found their children became better when these additives were removed. A panel of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) determined in 1982 that there was no scientific evidence to support these claims. The majority of clinical studies done at that time, including some that were controlled, all showed that Feingold was wrong. The paradigm at that time opposed his conclusions. But that paradigm is now changing and recent studies, also controlled, now show that Feingold was right.

Allowing these children to be diagnosed as bipolar because of vague behavioural changes that are simply a learning process is like giving a licence to kill-if not the children, then their mental growth and development.

In 1960 my research group in Saskatchewan, Canada, discovered a substance in the urine of psychiatric patients we called the ‘mauve factor’, as it stained the chromatography paper mauve. We used this as a way to characterize a condition we named ‘malvaria’ (later renamed ‘pyroluria’ by Carl Pfeiffer, MD), a metabolic condition caused by excessive levels of pyrroles in the body. Pyrroles are the normal result of haemoglobin synthesis for red blood cells, and the body usually gets rid of them via urine.

These patients came from several diagnostic groups, including schizophrenics, all of whom excreted too much of this factor into their urine.

Dr Pfeiffer eventually described a large number of different syndromes in schizophrenia. Each requires a rather different treatment programme, for if the disease is present due to a deficiency or a need for lots of niacin, say, it will not respond to any other vitamin or form of treatment.

Orthomolecular medicine

By 1960, I had been using large doses of vitamin B3 (niacin or niacinamide) for seven years for treating schizophrenia, lowering cholesterol, and decreasing the ravages of senility and other conditions.7 Up until then, I had had little experience with its beneficial effects in children with learning and behavioural disorders. But that year I began trying it after my friend George called one evening, early in 1962, to say he was very worried about his youngest son Ben. Nine years old, Ben had become a behavioural problem with a learning disability. Today he would be diagnosed as suffering from ADHD or one of its many variant labels.

Ben’s progress at school was so slow that his teachers began to prepare his parents to have him go to a school for slow learners, perhaps even one for the mentally retarded. But before anyone was aware that Ben had such a pro
blem, he had tested 120 on an IQ (intelligence quotient) test. To his father, a public administrator, and his mother, a teacher, Ben’s lack of progress in school was not only perplexing, but exceedingly disturbing.

I was not very keen on seeing Ben since I had little experience in treating children. The few children I had seen in the previous 10 years were all considered either slow learners or had various degrees of severe retardation, and no treatment was available for them. The modern type of hyperactive learning-disordered child was extremely rare in 1962. But George was so disturbed, I set aside my worry about making a proper assessment of his son.

Ben came into my office with his father. He was a good-looking boy, apparently healthy with none of the physical stigmata of the seriously retarded children seen in old psychiatric textbooks. He did not know why he had been brought to see me, and he denied having any problems or symptoms. His father gave me his developmental history, which showed that he had been walking by 14 months and talking by 20 months.

Both parents considered him an ideal child until he entered Grade 1, when he was seven years old. By the end of 1960, his mother noticed a change in his behaviour. He became more anxious, could not fall asleep at night and, if he did sleep, woke up frequently during the night. School became harder for Ben. When the family moved to a different part of the city and he was moved to a different school, he had even more problems. His teachers were worried about his erratic performance at school and told his parents he was in a “shell”. His reading and spelling were very poor. He finished Grade 3 with a D average in spite of extensive tutoring and drilling at home by his mother.

In July 1961, he was examined by a mental-health clinic specializing in treating children. Ben’s mother told them he had a very poor memory, reversed letters and had no knowledge of phonics. His eyes skipped back and forth so much she tried to keep him focused by using a ruler under the lines. His teachers reported he was not working to his best ability, spent a lot of time daydreaming and wasting time, and therefore was falling behind. His marks were very low. He did not complete assignments and did not bother to write his exams, nor could he be motivated to do better.

At home Ben was negative to his father, missed a lot of school, and often came home after school hours after not having gone to school that day. The clinic blamed the move to a new school and sibling rivalry with his brother, a year and a half older. They recommended remedial reading, which proved to be ineffective.

After my examination, I was puzzled. Nothing appeared that could explain the deterioration of this child to his present state. I arranged to analyze his urine for kryptopyrroles, the chemical my research group had discovered in the urine of a majority of schizophrenic patients we treated, but which could also be found in a smaller number of patients with other diagnoses.

Over the previous few years, I had found that any patient with this chemical in their urine more closely resembled schizophrenia than any other diagnostic group, and they responded very well to large doses of vitamin B3.

The next day we found large quantities of kryptopyrrole in Ben’s urine. I started him on niacinamide (3,000 mg) three times each day after meals. His parents continued this regimen for several months. George called me again that fall and told me that Ben was normal. Before starting on the vitamin, he had shown no progress whatsoever with remedial reading; after beginning his regime with B3, he spent the summer happily getting caught up.

One of his teachers prepared a report on Ben which she sent to me in 1973. Previously Ben had done so badly in classes that he was called ‘stupid’ in school and had responded by not answering any questions during class; to her surprise she now found him active in group discussions and volunteering answers. Prior to vitamin therapy, Ben had a hard time keeping up with taking notes in class or taking exams, especially in spelling and arithmetic, and he would invariably tense up and run out of time.

These problems soon began to disappear, and many other improvements were also noted physically, socially, emotionally and educationally.

“Ben is no longer shy,” his teacher reported. “He is a sparkling personality, not afraid to speak up. He has started to take an interest in sports, in which he excels and which should be encouraged. He now gets along well with the children at school and at camp. He will assume leadership and organization duties . . . Ben would go up on the stage to sing, say a speech, and read the morning scripture to the whole student body and the staff. All of these things he did well with little nervousness and tension noticeable. Ben also reads books without being told and enjoys reading them.”

Presently, Ben is raising a family and has a responsible permanent job. He meets my criteria for full recovery: he is free of symptoms and signs of illness, and he gets on well with his family and also with the community.

Although Ben was one of the first children I tested for kryptopyrrole and treated with large doses of niacinamide, he is an excellent example of what can be done for these children with so-called learning disabilities and behavioural disorders if they are examined, diagnosed and treated with the correct, orthomolecular approach.

Ben’s treatment and response to a vitamin in large doses is a prototype of what can be achieved through diet and nutrient supplements not only for ‘ill’ children like Ben, but also for ‘healthy’ children too.

By 1999, I had described 110 brief case histories of children under the age of 14 whom I had treated with orthomolecular methods. Many of them, if seen by a child psychiatrist, would have been diagnosed with one or more of the attention-deficit disorders or as bipolar, then treated with antipsychotic drugs, and none would have recovered. The first three children I treated in 1960 recovered. No double-blind studies were needed. Eventually I treated well over 2,000 patients under the age of 14-with very few failures.

My conclusions have since been recorded in dozens of publications and in several books, and there has been massive corroboration by physicians who have used the treatment I described.

And if this treatment is as good as I have seen and described, why is not every child getting the benefits?
The orthomolecular treatment theory and practice is based on the modern paradigm of the use of vitamins as treatment and not only to prevent a few deficiency diseases such as scurvy and rickets. But the treatment is more complex than just handing out a few vitamin pills.

The first element is to correct the child’s diet. Too many consume huge amounts of food ‘artifacts’ like sugars, harmful fats and products made from refined flour. Just as important is to eliminate foods to which the child is allergic.
This has been totally ignored by medicine except by a few clinical ecologists. If a child is sick because she is drinking large amounts of milk to which she is allergic, then she will not recover until that has been corrected.

After the child and his parents are instructed about what to eat and when (it should be three meals each day), the child is started on the appropriate vitamins. For a child with behavioural and/or learning disorders, the two B vitamins-niacin (B3) and pyridoxine (B6)-are the most important.

When I first began to treat with vitamins, I used only vitamin B3, but it later became clear that vitamin B6 also played a role, especially for autistic children. Vitamin C is also needed as no one ever gets enough from food. Vitamin D is needed especially in northern countries where ultraviolet light is rare most of the year. And since it is rare for any person to have only one deficiency, it’s also good to add a multi-B-complex preparation. The most important minerals are zinc and selenium.

I still marvel at the fact that a disease
which was very seldom diagnosed in children a few years ago is now found in millions of children as young as two to such a degree that they are given antipsychotic drugs. As The New York Times science reporter John Tierney wrote, “[D]octors take their cues from others, leading them to overdiagnose some faddish ailment (called bandwagon diseases) and overprescribe certain treatments (like the tonsillectomies once popular for children). Unable to keep up with the volume of research, doctors look for guidance from an expert-or at least someone who sounds confident.”

The idea that bipolar disorder is so common originated at Harvard University with Joseph Biederman, MD, chief of child psychopharmacology at Massachusetts General Hospital. In a CBS TV programme, he defined the disorder more broadly so that more children could be diagnosed. So here we have the necessary elements for a treatment ‘cascade’ to start-the opinion of a respected scientist attached to Harvard. How many psychiatrists would stand up to a scientist from such a distinguished university? The idea was also very attractive and helpful to Big Pharma, which found an enormous new market for their drugs.

Psychiatric drugs can be essential for many patients as an emergency measure, but evil when used indefinitely and in large doses. They should be used like crutches and thrown away when they’re no longer needed. Much more attention must be given to the toxic side-effects of antipsychotics, the greatest of which is that it’s almost impossible to ever fully get well when taking these medications.

The natural recovery rate when patients with mental disorders are given proper shelter, good food, and treated with civility and respect is around 40 per cent. When treated by modern psychiatry, it drops down to about 10 per cent.
Psychiatric diagnosis as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV) is neither scientific nor useful for either treatment or prognosis, and should be abandoned. It should be replaced by diagnoses such as allergies, and vitamin and mineral deficiency and dependency. The present diagnostic paradigm is not just harmful to children, but a licence to kill.

A jam sandwich

In 1960, a physician called me from the United States. He was crying as he told me about his son, aged 12, who was in hospital. He had just been advised there was no treatment, no hope, and that he should lock him up in a California state mental hospital and forget about him.

That was common advice. I advised his father to get some niacin and take it to the hospital and discuss its use with his son’s psychiatrist. I didn’t think any knowledgeable doctor would be afraid of a vitamin, yet the psychiatrist became very angry, denouncing the use of niacin, saying it had been tested and that it would fry his son’s brains. Both statements were not true.

The father then began to visit his son daily and, while there, he fed him jam sandwiches made up of a slice of bread, a layer of jam, niacin powder, another layer of jam and a slice of bread. Three months later, the boy wanted to go home. He completed Grade 12 in the top 5 per cent of high-school students in the country. Later, he studied medicine, obtained his MD degree and became a research psychiatrist. He spent one summer working in Linus Pauling’s laboratory.

‘Safe’ Ritalin: Reading between the lines

In October 2006, the US National Institute of Mental Health sponsored what it called the “first long-term, large-scale study designed to determine the safety and effectiveness of treating preschoolers who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder with methylphenidate (Ritalin)”.

Not surprisingly, they found it safe and effective when used at low doses for preschoolers aged three to five. Yet, the study also found that children in this age range are more sensitive than older children to the medication’s side-effects and therefore should be closely monitored.

Let’s tease out the relevant data from this carefully worded document designed to support their conclusions.

1- The study ran for 70 weeks. This may seem a long time compared with the usual few months of drug studies, but it’s very short term in relation to these children growing into their mid-teens. Malnutrition may not show its worst toxic side-effects for up to 20 years. To call this a long-term study is surely a major stretch. They also called it a large-scale study, but only 303 children were included.

2- Safety. The adverse effects were worse than those in older children.

3- The medication slowed the children’s growth rates. Over the 70 weeks of the study, they grew half an inch less than the expected rates. Suppose we estimate what would happen if these children remained in the trial for 10 years into their teens, which is not particularly uncommon. Although growth is not linear with respect to age, we can still estimate that, on average, they would be five inches shorter and weigh 30 pounds less.

4- Eleven per cent of children dropped out of the study because of intolerable side-effects. For example, some children lost weight, and weight loss of 10 per cent or more of the child’s weight at the start of the trial was considered a severe-enough side-effect for the investigators to discontinue the medication.

Other side-effects included insomnia, loss of appetite, mood disturbances like feelings of worry or nervousness and skin-picking behaviours. Can a treatment that makes one out of every 10 patients worse really be considered safe and effective?

A natural recipe for treatment

For any behavioural problems, work with a qualified, experienced nutritional or orthomolecular practitioner, who will customize the suggested dosages below, depending on the age or specific needs of your child.

o Investigate food allergies and suspect the big three: sugar, dairy and wheat
o Feed your child three nourishing organic, non-processed meals a day and cook from scratch
o Eliminate food additives from the diet

Supplement with:

o A multivitamin tablet that doesn’t contain copper
o Vitamin B3 (as niacinamide or inositol hexanicotinate)
Suggested daily dosage: 500-1,000 mg x 3
o Vitamin B-50 complex (50 mg of 10 B vitamins)
Suggested daily dosage: one tablet
o Vitamin B6
Suggested daily dosage: 100 mg
o Vitamin B9 (folate or folic acid)
Suggested daily dosage: 1,200 mcg
o Vitamin D
Suggested daily dosage: 1,000-2,000 IU
o Vitamin C
Suggested daily dosage: 500-1,000 mg x 3
o Zinc
Suggested daily dosage: 25-50 mg
o Selenium
Suggested daily dosage: 200 mcg
o Calcium/magnesium
Suggested daily dosage: 300 mg calcium, 150 mg magnesium, each x 3
o Omega-3 essential fatty acids
Suggested daily dosage:
1 g x 3


Allen S. ‘Mass. tracks children on psychiatric drugs: Prescriptions eyed after overdose. The Boston Globe, 7 October 2007
Can J Psychiatry, 2007; 52: 409-17
Lancet, 1998; 352: 784-5
Am J Psychiatry, 1998; 155: 1711-7
J Dev Behav Pediatr, 2004; 25: 423-34
Acta Psychiatr Scand, 1963; 39: 335-66
Hoffer A, Foster HD. Feel Better, Live Longer with Vitamin B-3. Toronto, ON: CCNM Press, 2007
Hoffer A. Healing Children’s Attention and Behavior Disorders. Toronto, ON: CCNM Press, 2004
Hoffer A. Dr Hoffer’s ABC of Natural Nutrition for Children. Kingston, ON: Quarry Press, 1999
Tierney J. ‘Diet and fat: A severe case of mistaken consensus.’ The New York Times, October 9, 2007

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Article Topics: B vitamins, Psychiatry
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