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Orthomolecular Medicine

What is Orthomolecular Medicine?

Image of a spoonfull of vitamin pills‘Orth’ means correct, and orthomolecular medicine (also known as optimum nutrition) means administering doses of vitamins, minerals and other natural substances at levels that have to be exactly right for the individual patient. Proponents of this approach believe that low levels of these substances cause chronic problems which go beyond straightforward mineral or vitamin deficiency. These problems include a tendency to suffer from infections such as the common cold, lack of energy or even cancer. This means each patient is initially assessed to determine precisely which substances he or she needs. Subsequently the ‘correct’ mixture is prescribed. The hallmarks of orthomolecular medicine are the extremely high doses that are usually suggested and the individualization of the prescription.

What is the Evidence?

Some of the diagnostic methods that are being used for defining the right mixture of substances are not of proven validity. For instance, hair analysis is often employed, yet it generates spurious results in this context. The medicinal claims made are neither plausible nor supported by data from clinical trials. Thus there is no evidence that orthomolecular medicine is effective.

Proponents would strongly dispute this statement and refer to a plethora of studies that show the efficacy of vitamins. After all, vitamins are substances that are vital for humans – without them we cannot survive. However, our normal diet usually provides sufficient vitamins and the treatment of vitamin deficiencies is unrelated to the specific principles of orthomolecular medicine.

In excessive doses, vitamins can cause harm. Virtually all of these substances will cause adverse effects if grossly overdosed over prolonged periods of time – and this is precisely what is recommended by proponents of orthomolecular medicine.

In summary, the concepts of orthomolecular medicine are not biologically plausible and not supported by the results of rigorous clinical trials. These problems are compounded by the fact that orthomolecular medicine can cause harm and is often very expensive.

For More Information:

This extract is taken from “Trick or Treatment?” (Transworld), a book that contains a series of 1-page summaries looking at the evidence for and against a range of alternative therapies. The authors of the book are Simon Singh (founder of the Good Thinking Society) and Edzard Ernst (the world’s first professor of complementary medicine