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Research Newsletter-Spring/Summer 2007


How to live longer and feel better—what we have learned in the last 20 years

Balz Frei, Ph.D.
Endowed Chair and Principal Investigator, Linus Pauling Institute;
Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Oregon State University

2006 marked the 20th anniversary of Linus Pauling's book How to Live Longer and Feel Better. This book has been read throughout the world and has affected many people's lives and behaviors, as well as the health research field. Pauling outlines a "Regimen for Better Health" in which he makes recommendations for diet and lifestyle, including supplementation of vitamins in doses often considerably higher than the RDA. (It should be noted that current research does not support some of Pauling's recommendations, such as taking doses of vitamin A above the current Tolerable Upper Intake Level of 10,000 IU per day.) Pauling’s book served as an inspiration to many scientists who are studying orthomolecular medicine (the practice of varying concentrations of normal substances in the human body to maintain good health and treat disease), particularly in the field of micronutrients. His book is also very relevant to current health issues like obesity and excessive sugar consumption. The book is intended for the general public and has had a beneficial effect on public education and people's diets and lifestyles.

Pauling took particular interest in vitamin C, and researchers continue to build upon his work. He recommended taking 6-18 grams of vitamin C per day. Current studies show that peak plasma and blood cell concentrations of vitamin C do not increase with oral doses higher than 400 mg. However, these tests were performed on young, healthy people, and older or diseased individuals may have different needs, a concept Pauling termed "biochemical individuality."

Vitamin C has also been shown to be an excellent antioxidant in human plasma. It protects against oxidative stress caused by inflammation, excessive exercise, or tobacco smoking. Oxidative stress impairs our body's ability to relax arteries and regulate blood pressure. Vitamin C may help people with certain types of heart disease and high blood pressure. In a study of 15,000 men aged 45-79 years, higher plasma levels of vitamin C were associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Risk was decreased by as much as 60% for the group with highest vitamin C levels in their plasma, and this group also consumed the most fruits and vegetables. Another study showed a 30% coronary heart disease risk reduction in women taking vitamin C supplements of 400 mg/day or more for more than ten years.

In his book, Pauling also recommended moderating dietary fat and alcohol consumption. Current studies show that the amount of fat in the diet is less important than the type of fat consumed. Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats both decrease LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) and raise HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol), thus exerting a beneficial effect on heart disease risk. These unsaturated fats are found, for example, in vegetable oils, flaxseed, salmon, tuna, trout, olive oil, canola oil, and nuts. Saturated fats, such as animal fats (butter and meat) and tropical oils (palm and coconut oils), somewhat raise HDL but also greatly raise LDL cholesterol and, thus, have an overall adverse effect on heart disease risk. The worst fats are the trans fats, which are found in hydrogenated oil products like stick margarine and vegetable shortening. Current studies also show that heart disease is reduced by about 30% in men consuming up to two alcoholic drinks per day and women consuming up to one alcoholic drink per day. The form of alcohol (wine, beer, or liquor) does not seem to matter.

Pauling was also researching whether very high doses of vitamin C could benefit terminal cancer patients. For these studies, 10 g/day were given intravenously (IV) and then followed by 10 g/day orally indefinitely (until the patient's death). This vitamin C regimen seemed to increase the survival time and improve quality of life of the cancer patients. Later studies at the Mayo Clinic with only high oral doses of vitamin C proved ineffective, suggesting that for vitamin C to be effective in cancer therapy, plasma levels may have to be boosted by IV infusion. Recent research studies in the lab indicate that very high levels of vitamin C will kill cancer cells but not normal cells by producing certain reactive oxygen species. Similarly high levels of vitamin C can be achieved in humans by IV infusions but not oral supplementation. Because of these findings, a phase I safety trial of intravenous vitamin C in advanced cancer patients is currently under way, with the ultimate goal to revisit Pauling's thesis that IV vitamin C could benefit cancer patients.

Last updated May 2007