Vitamin C

Winning the Nobel Peace Prize was a complete and wonderful surprise. The front yard of Pauling's Pasadena home quickly filled with journalists and camera crews. Telegrams of congratulation began arriving by the score. The phone would not stop ringing. Pauling held a short news conference in which he told everyone how proud and happy he was. "I also hope," he said, "that this award will now make it respectable to work for peace in the United States."

Pauling was jubilant. For years he had suffered personal attacks and professional setbacks because of his antibomb efforts. Now he was vindicated. "I gave over five hundred public lectures about radioactive fallout and nuclear war and the need for stopping the bomb tests in the atmosphere and the need for eliminating war ultimately," he later told an interviewer. "I was doing something that I didn't care to do very much, except for reasons of morality and conviction. ... So when I received word in 1963 that I had been given the Nobel Prize, I felt that showed that the sacrifice that I had made was worthwhile."

The Peace Prize was indeed a signal honor, especially because it made Pauling the first person in history to have

won two unshared Nobels. (Marie Curie had also won two, but one of hers was shared with her husband and another physicist.) The public response, however, was not all congratulatory. A number of newspapers and magazines were critical, arguing that President Kennedy was a better choice for the Prize than Pauling, whom the New York Herald-Tribune dubbed a "placarding peacenik." Life magazine headlined its editorial about the prize "A Weird Insult from Norway," adding that "however distinguished as a chemist, the eccentric Dr. Pauling and his weird politics have never been taken seriously by American opinion."

This mean-spirited chorus of public disapproval was discouraging to Pauling. And so was the lukewarm praise that Caltech president DuBridge offered via the local newspaper, in which he was quoted saying that "many people have disapproved of some of [Pauling's] methods and activities." There was no word of personal congratulation, no hint of institutional pride, no plan for a grand party of the sort that had followed the announcement of Pauling's chemistry Nobel nine years earlier. There was only, in Pauling's eyes, the unnecessary reminder that "many people have disapproved." He was hurt.

The Peace Prize—and the $50,000 that came with it (about three years' salary for Pauling)—allowed him to do something about it. A few days after reading DuBridge's comment, Pauling called a news conference. As cameras whirred and flashbulbs popped, he announced he was—after more than 40 years as student, faculty member, and head of chemistry—leaving Caltech. He was moving to Santa Barbara, he said, to join the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI), a liberal think tank devoted to studying political and social issues. And very quickly he was gone, first to Norway to accept the Peace Prize, then on to Santa Barbara.

The suddenness of the move caught many of his old friends and coworkers by surprise. Few of them recognized

Stung by criticism over his political activities from his colleagues at Caltech Pauling called a news conference on October 18, 1963, to announce that he was ending his relationship with the school to move to a liberal think tank.

the pressures that had been brought to bear on him because of his political work. Almost no one knew that he had been asked to resign as chairman of the chemistry division. Pauling had kept his humiliation and anger a secret and only now let it out through his decision to leave the place that had been his scientific home.

It was not, as it turned out, the end to Pauling's problems. Santa Barbara was a disappointment. Ava Helen missed her friends in Pasadena. Pauling, intent at first on constructing a new, scientifically based system of ethics, found himself doing little but participating in endless rounds of discussion and debate. "My complaint about the Center," Pauling noted, "is that the great amount of talk leads to little in the way of accepted conclusions."

He also missed doing science. There was no laboratory at CSDI, and without one he could not convince granting agencies in the sciences to give him money for the new ideas he was playing with. Within a few months of his arrival at CSDI, Pauling was thinking about taking a part-time appointment in chemistry at the University of California at Santa Barbara, but the idea was rejected by the university chancellor, who felt Pauling was too controversial.

For the previous decade, Pauling's scientific work had been spotty at best. The research projects he had overseen—most notably a foray into the molecular roots of mental disease and a failed attempt to discover the mechanism of anesthesia—had produced little of value. His only lasting contribution came in 1961, when he and a coworker noted that molecular variations between the hemoglobins from different species could be correlated to the evolutionary distance between them. The more time that had elapsed

Stung by criticism over his political activities from his colleagues at Caltech Pauling called a news conference on October 18, 1963, to announce that he was ending his relationship with the school to move to a liberal think tank.

since a species separated from another, the greater the difference in the makeup of their hemoglobins. Pauling called this idea a molecular clock and used it to show, for instance, that humans and gorillas may have diverged more recently than was commonly thought. The use of molecular changes to track evolution was an important discovery, one that now—using DNA instead of hemoglobin—constitutes one of the most important tools evolutionary scientists have.

Apart from that, Pauling had little to show. He continued looking for another great idea, one that, like molecular complementarity, would open new vistas of understanding.

In 1965, he found one. Looking for something to read while staying overnight at the house of a psychiatrist friend in Carmel, California, he stumbled across a book describing the use of niacin (one of the B vitamins) in treating a serious mental disease called schizophrenia, in which patients lose touch with reality, behave illogically, and sometimes hear voices. Pauling was struck by the study's finding that using vitamin doses hundreds of times higher than the recommended daily allowance was sometimes successful in treating these cases. He quickly began reading everything he could find on vitamin therapy's effects on brain function.

Within a few weeks, an idea began forming in Pauling's mind. He knew from his reading that the brain is a complex electrochemical system that fires its messages from nerve cell to nerve cell. And from his long experience as a chemist he was aware that chemical reactions work best if there are just the right concentrations of molecules reacting—too little of one or another and the system slows down and does not produce an optimal result. What if the brain were viewed, he wondered, as a large, very complex set of chemical reactions? Optimal mental functioning would result from giving the brain just the right amounts of the needed molecules. In a biological system like the brain, the important molecules would include the enzymes that help reactions happen, the molecules that enzymes work on, and the trace elements.

metals, and vitamins needed to help the enzymes do their work. Perhaps, he thought, mental problems resulted from the patient's molecular balance being thrown off kilter. Perhaps the same concept—for which Pauling invented the term orthomolecular, to encompass his idea of "the right molecules in the right amounts"—might apply to the rest of the body as well.

This idea was given a boost in 1966. In a New York City speech after receiving the Carl Neuberg Medal, in honor of his work integrating biological and medical science, Pauling mentioned that he hoped he might live another 20 years, to see the great scientific discoveries to come. A few days later he received a letter from Irwin Stone, a biochemist who had been in the audience. Why ask for only 20 years, Stone asked, when you could live another 50 by increasing your intake of vitamin C?

Pauling began corresponding with Stone and learning about vitamin C. He discovered that although vitamin C was a necessary nutrient—without it people die of scurvy— the human body cannot produce it. It has to be taken in through food.

The problem was, Stone was convinced, that the government had decided on a minimum daily requirement for vitamin C that was too low: just enough to prevent scurvy, but not enough to keep the body at peak health. Stone argued that much higher doses of vitamin C could help prevent viral diseases, cancer, and heart disease. How much should humans take? The only good study available of other animals showed that rats, which made their own vitamin C, produced so much that humans would have to ingest 2,000 to 4,000 milligrams (mg) per day to equal it—about 100 times the government's current recommended levels. Stone himself was taking 3,000 mg per day.

Pauling was impressed with Stone's evolutionary argument and began to think that here, too, was another potential example of how providing the ideal rather than the text continues on page 123

Linus Pauling

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