Linus Pauling (1977) - Ascorbic Acid and Cancer

Linus Pauling (1977)

Ascorbic Acid and Cancer

Linus Pauling (1977)

Ascorbic Acid and Cancer

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Linus Pauling’s first lecture on cancer and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) consists of two rather distinct parts. The first part gives in quite detail (without slides) the story of how Pauling became interested in the use of large doses of ascorbic acid against cancer. The second part is more of a normal lecture with many slides and this part is rather technical. In the first part, Pauling starts by advocating a new science career, in theoretical medicine. His own interest in this subject comes from the early 1950’s, when he had just lost the competition for unravelling the structure of the DNA (which was theoretically worked out by Francis Crick and James Watson). Pauling then considered starting research on cancer or on mental diseases, eventually going into the latter area because he thought that competition would be less. He then spent ten years working on schizofrenia, noting that some treatments included very large amounts of vitamins. Much later, in 1971, he was asked to give a lecture at the dedication of a new cancer ward. Actually, the lecture should have been given by another chemist and Nobel Laureate, the Swede Arne Tiselius, but since he caught some illness, Pauling on short notice took over the task. Inspired by his work on schizofrenia he got the idea that vitamin C could be of use to keep cancer patients alive longer by strengthening the collagen, the protein that keeps body tissue together. Asked about a suitable dose, he argued that since all animals except the primates (man and monkey) produce their own ascorbic acid and, e.g., a 70 kg goat produces 13 g/day, a similar dose would be good also for human beings. This recommendation led to heated debate and many attempts to prove or disprove his idea have been made. Pauling was an interesting personality, an extremely creative scientist with a strong feeling for PR, but the consensus today is that in this particular case he was wrong.Anders Bárány

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