Medicine:Orthomolecular psychiatry

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Orthomolecular psychiatry is the use of orthomolecular medicine for mental illness. The approach uses unorthodox forms of individualized testing and diagnosis to attempt to establish an etiology for each patient's specific symptoms, and claims to tailor the treatment accordingly, using a combination of nutrients, dietary changes and medications that are claimed to enhance quality of life and functionality as well as to reduce or eliminate symptoms and the use of xenobiotic drugs. Scientific studies have shown the orthomolecular psychiatry is ineffective. Orthomolecular psychiatry has been rejected by the mainstream medical community.


Orthomolecular psychiatry began with Abram Hoffer and Humphry Osmond in the 1950s and was continued by Carl Pfeiffer,[1] although proponents of orthomolecular psychiatry say that the ideas behind their approach can be traced back to the 1920s and '30s.[2][3] Orthomolecular psychiatry's goal of weaning patients from conventional neuroleptic drugs[4] follows "Pfeiffer's Law", "For every drug that benefits a patient, there is a natural substance that can achieve the same effect".[5] In 1968, Linus Pauling first used the term orthomolecular.[6][7]

Hoffer's therapies focused on using niacin, among other nutrients, to treat what he diagnosed as acute schizophrenia based on an unaccepted test. In 1973, a task force of the American Psychiatric Association examined niacin monotherapy of patient populations with chronic schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and rejected the practice along with the reliability of Hoffer's diagnostic approach.[8]

The assertions by proponents of orthomolecular psychiatry were rejected in 1973 by a panel of the American Psychiatric Association.[8][9][10] However, the underpinning ideas of orthomolecular psychiatry have become popular in alternative medical circles as a means to explain conditions such as autism, heavy metal toxicity, and chronic inflammatory disease. After 1975, orthomolecular psychiatry research was primarily reported in Orthomolecular Psychiatry, now the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, a publication founded by Hoffer to counter what he considered to be a medical conspiracy against his ideas.[11]


Proponents of orthomolecular psychiatry claim to have identified the causes of some psychiatric syndromes, in particular those that cause psychosis; according to orthomolecular proponents, testing for these causes guides diagnosis and treatment. Diagnostic measures and therapies commonly employed include "individual biochemical workup", fasting, identifying suggested allergies, dietary changes, megavitamin therapy, amino acids, and other so-called "pharmacologic nutrients".[4] These diagnoses have not been accepted by mainstream medicine.[12]

Specific conditions

Orthomolecularists claim that the causes of psychotic disorders include food allergy, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism in the presence of normal thyroid values, heavy metal intoxications including those allegedly due to dental fillings, as well as several hypothesised conditions they call pyroluria, histadelia and histapenia.[4] These conditions are said to be not recognized by the conventional medical community though over 400 medical practitioners are said to have attended practitioner education workshops worldwide.


Pyroluria (or malvaria from the term mauve factor) involves hypothetical excessive levels of pyrroles in the body resulting from improper hemoglobin synthesis.[13] Carl Pfeiffer believed that pyroluria is a form of schizophrenic porphyria, similar to acute intermittent porphyria where both pyrroles and porphyrins are excreted in the human urine to an excessive degree.[14] and orthomolecular psychiatrists have alleged that pyroluria is related to diagnoses of ADHD, alcoholism, autism, depression, down syndrome, manic-depression, schizophrenia, celiac disease, epilepsy, and psychosis.[15] Pfeiffer's methods have not been rigorously tested,[16] and pyrroles are not considered to be related to schizophrenia. Studies have either failed to detect hemopyrrole and kryptopyrrole in the urine of normal controls and schizophrenics, or found no correlation between these chemicals and mental illness.[17][18][19][20][21][22] Few, if any, medical experts regard the condition as genuine, and few or no articles on pyroluria are found in modern medical literature;[23] the approach is described as "snake oil" by pediatrician and author Julian Haber.[16]


Histadelia is a condition hypothesised by Carl Pfeiffer[24][25] to involve elevated serum levels of histamine and basophils,[4] which he says can be treated with methionine and vitamin B6 megadoses.[26] Pfeiffer claims that "histadelia" can cause depression with or without psychosis, but no published clinical trials have tested the effectiveness of this therapy.[27]


Histapenia in orthomolecular medicine is the condition of high serum copper with low histamine.

Relationship to mainstream psychiatry

Orthomolecular psychiatry has been rejected by the mainstream medical community.[28] Critics have noted that the claims advanced by its proponents are unsubstantiated, and even false. Authoritative bodies such as the National Institute of Mental Health[12] and American Academy of Pediatrics[29] have criticized orthomolecular treatments as ineffective and toxic.

A 1973 task force of the American Psychiatric Association charged with investigating orthomolecular claims concluded:

This review and critique has carefully examined the literature produced by megavitamin proponents and by those who have attempted to replicate their basic and clinical work. It concludes in this regard that the credibility of the megavitamin proponents is low. Their credibility is further diminished by a consistent refusal over the past decade to perform controlled experiments and to report their new results in a scientifically acceptable fashion. Under these circumstances this Task Force considers the massive publicity which they promulgate via radio, the lay press and popular books, using catch phrases which are really misnomers like "megavitamin therapy" and "orthomolecular treatment," to be deplorable.[30]

One review suggested the APA statement was "well-intentioned" but biased, and called for further research in this field.[31]


  1. Saul, AW; Jolliffe M. "Bibliography of the Publications of Carl Pfeiffer, MD, PhD". 
  2. Reiter, PJ (1927). "Behandlung von Dementia Praecox mit metallsalzen. Mangan. Z". Neur 108: 464–80. doi:10.1007/bf02863975.  as cited in Pfeiffer, C; LaMola, S (1983). "Zinc and Manganese in the Schizophrenias". Journal of Orthomolecular Psychiatry 12 (3). 
  3. Kay Lily E (1993). The molecular vision of life: Caltech, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the rise of the new biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-511143-9. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Edelman Eva (2001). Natural Healing for Schizophrenia: And Other Common Mental Disorders. Borage Books. ISBN 978-0-9650976-7-3. 
  5. Barney, Paul (1998). Doctor's guide to natural medicine. Pleasant Grove, Utah: Woodland. ISBN 978-1-885670-84-7. 
  6. Pauling L (1968). "Orthomolecular psychiatry. Varying the concentrations of substances normally present in the human body may control mental disease". Science 160 (3825): 265–71. doi:10.1126/science.160.3825.265. PMID 5641253. Bibcode1968Sci...160..265P. 
  7. Pauling, Linus; Hawkins, D (1973). Orthomolecular psychiatry: treatment of schizophrenia. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman. p. 697. ISBN 978-0-7167-0898-8. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Orthomolecular therapy: its history and applicability to psychiatric disorders". Child Psychiatry Hum Dev 18 (3): 133–50. 1988. doi:10.1007/BF00709727. PMID 2898324. 
  9. "On the orthomolecular environment of the mind: orthomolecular theory". American Journal of Psychiatry 131 (11): 1251–67. 1974. doi:10.1176/ajp.131.11.1251. PMID 4608217. 
  10. Lerner, V (2005-08-31). "Treatment of acute schizophrenia with vitamin therapy". 
  11. Hoffer, Abram. "The History of the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine". J Orthomol Med. Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Barrett MD, Stephen (2000-07-12). "Orthomolecular Therapy". Quackwatch. 
  13. Laperchia, P. (1987). "Behavioral disorders, learning disabilities and megavitamin therapy". Adolescence 22 (87): 729–738. PMID 2963502. 
  14. "Pyroluria". 
  15. Jackson James A; Riordan Hugh D; Neathery Sharon; Riordan Neil H (1997). "Urinary pyrrole in health and disease". The Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine 12 (2nd Quarter): 96–8. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 Skertic, Mark (April 21, 2002). "For some, a question of balancing nutrients".  Available at the internet archive. Retrieved on 2008-02-17
  17. Holman, Paul (July 1995). "Pyridoxine - Vitamin B-6". Journal of Australian College of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine 14 (1): 5–16. Retrieved 2007-04-19. 
  18. Cruz, R; Vogel, WH (1978). "Pyroluria: a poor marker in chronic schizophrenia". The American Journal of Psychiatry 135 (10): 1239–40. doi:10.1176/ajp.135.10.1239. PMID 696910. 
  19. Gendler, PL; Duhan, HA; Rapoport, H (1978). "Hemopyrrole and kryptopyrrole are absent from the urine of schizophrenics and normal persons". Clinical Chemistry 24 (2): 230–3. doi:10.1093/clinchem/24.2.230. PMID 627053. 
  20. Jacobson, SJ; Rapoport, H; Ellman, GL (1975). "The nonoccurrence of hemo- and kryptopyrrole in urine of schizophrenics". Biological Psychiatry 10 (1): 91–3. PMID 1120177. 
  21. Gorchein, A (1980). "Urine concentration of 3-ethyl-5-hydroxy-4,5-dimethyl-delta 3-pyrrolin-2-one ('mauve factor') is not causally related to schizophrenia or to acute intermittent porphyria". Clinical Science 58 (6): 469–76. doi:10.1042/cs0580469. PMID 7428279. 
  22. Vaughan, K.; McConaghy, N. (1999). "Megavitamin and dietary treatment in schizophrenia: a randomised, controlled trial". The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 33 (1): 84–88. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1614.1999.00527.x. PMID 10197889. 
  23. National Library for Health (2005-10-05). "What is pyroluria, is it an accepted clinical entity and what are the treatment?". 
  24. "Blood histamine levels, basophil counts, and trace metals in the schizophrenias". Psychopharmacol Bull 7 (3): 37. July 1971. PMID 5117854. 
  25. Pfeiffer Carl C; Smyrl, EG; Iliev, V (July 1972). "Extreme basophil counts and blood histamine levels in schizophrenic outpatients as compared to normals". Res Commun Chem Pathol Pharmacol 4 (1): 51–9. PMID 4671910. 
  26. Pfeiffer Carl C (1988). Nutrition and Mental Illness: An Orthomolecular Approach to Balancing Body Chemistry. Healing Arts Press. ISBN 978-0-89281-226-4. 
  27. Pfeiffer, Carl C (1987). Nutrition and Mental Illness: An Orthomolecular Approach to Balancing Body Chemistry. Healing Art Press. ISBN 978-0-89281-226-4. 
  28. Miller M (1996). "Diet and psychological health". Altern Ther Health Med 2 (5): 40–8. PMID 8795935. 
  29. Bennett, Forrest C (November 1983). "Vitamin and mineral supplementation in Down's syndrome". Pediatrics 72 (5): 707–713. PMID 6226926. 
  30. Task force report on megavitamin and orthomolecular Therapy in psychiatry. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association. 1973. ; as cited in Barrett MD, Stephen (2000-07-12). "Orthomolecular Therapy". Quackwatch. 
  31. Hoffer, L. J. (2008). "Vitamin therapy in schizophrenia". The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences 45 (1): 3–10. PMID 18587164. 


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