High dose vitamin C can cure Ebola virus disease? Not so fast…

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Before I got sidetracked with a certain topic that’s consumed the blog, another topic that had popped up (albeit nowhere near as frequently) was the latest Ebola virus disease outbreak in Africa, the largest in history thus far. Indeed, as horrific as this outbreak is and as terrible a disease as Ebola is, with close to a 60% mortality even with the best treatment, it did produce one amusing bit of clownishness, and that’s that it revealed that there really is something too quacky even for Mike Adams of NaturalNews.com to tolerate.

I’m referring to an incident four weeks ago where a truly deluded Norwegian homeopath named Kjetill Oftedal posted on NaturalNews.com a recipe for a homeopathic remedy for Ebola that actually took the precepts of homeopathy seriously. What do I mean by that? Whereas previously discussed homeopathic remedies for Ebola used various snake venom that caused bleeding (you know, using something that causes one Ebola symptom in the healthy) as its starting material, Oftedal went one step farther and actually recommended getting blood or other bodily fluid from an Ebola victim as the starting material and then homeopathically diluting it away to nothing. He then recommended using it to prevent and treat Ebola virus disease. So quacky was this that Mike Adams, in an unprecedented bit of seeming responsibility, took it down. Still, it’s not too quacky for Oftedal, who promptly republished the post on his own blog. So it ever was with the unsinkable rubber duck of quackery that is homeopathy.

Although news about Ebola had faded to a dull roar in the background, the quackery for Ebola continues unabated, including colloidal silver, herbal remedies, and lots more. One feels for those poor leaders of west African nations who, in addition to having an outbreak of a highly lethal infectious disease within their borders to contend with, no doubt also have to contend with well-meaning quacks sending them letters about the glories of some nonsense or other that is touted as being able to save their people.

Take high dose vitamin C (please).

I don’t know how I missed this particularly irresponsible bit of quackery promotion, given that it’s in a blog in the Windsor Star, which is just across the river, but I did. About a week ago, there appeared a blog post entitled Dr. Gifford-Jones: Are West Africans needlessly dying from the Ebola virus? I don’t know if it also appeared in the Star print edition, but sincerely hope that it did not, although I do know that it apparently first appeared on Dr. W. Gifford-Jones’ website a couple of weeks before, a site that, not unexpectedly, contains a quack Miranda warning in Gifford-Jones’ bio page. One wonders what docs across the Detroit River are thinking, but I know a few and bet that they think this post is every bit as irresponsible as I think it is. For shame, Windsor Star!

I mean, get a load of what Dr. W. Gifford-Jones has to say:

But the great tragedy is that by failing to read history, researchers and doctors have, in the past, condemned millions to die from viral disease. Now it is happening again in West Africa. So what will happen if a case of Ebola disease occurs in this country?

Currently, Canada and other nations are scrambling to send untested drugs and vaccines to West Africa. Yet, in all the headlines and media stories surrounding this epidemic, not one word is spoken of the proven intravenous use of vitamin C as a cure.

One wonders why “not one word” is spoken of the “proven” intravenous use of vitamin C as a cure for Ebola. Could it be because it’s neither “proven” nor a “cure”? Nahhh. Couldn’t possibly be, could it? It couldn’t be because doctors generally don’t speak of quack cures in anything other than dismissive tones; that is, when they bother to mention them at all. It must be because physicians are ignorant or in the pocket of big pharma or both, right? Send those untested drugs over to Africa because the biotech company wants to make money. Oh, wait. There was a great deal of consternation among the CDC and the biotech company that makes the drug about using ZMapp, an experimental drug that was tried last month on two Americans who contracted Ebola, was reluctant to use it because it’s hard to make and because it had not even passed phase I trials yet.

But Dr. Gifford-Jones is just getting warmed up:

Medical history shows that ignorance, or arrogance, a better word, has been a common human trait of the medical community. One of the most flagrant examples is how Dr. Frederick R. Klenner was treated by his colleagues after saving polio patients from paralysis.

Klenner was a virtually unknown family doctor, in a small North Carolina town. He had no training in virology, no research grants and no experimental laboratory. But he had an open mind to new ideas.

In 1942 his wife suffered from bleeding gums and the local dentist suggested removing all of her teeth. Klenner justifiably considered this a Draconian solution. He recalled research that vitamin C had cured this problem in chimpanzees. Klenner gave his wife several injections of vitamin C. Her bleeding stopped.

Lovely. So apparently a dentist misdiagnosed scurvy. Or something. But this was only the start. Like all quacks with delusions of grandeur, for Klenner curing something as prosaic as bleeding gums wasn’t enough (although I must admit that removing all the teeth seems a rather radical treatment for bleeding gums). Too boring. Too…unimportant. Klenner moved on to viral pneumonia, allegedly curing a patient who was “near death” from the disease. But even that wasn’t enough. Oh, no. Klenner then went on to cure…polio! Of course! here’s the account:

During the polio epidemic of 1948, Dr. Klenner was placed in charge of 60 polio patients. He decided to prescribe large injections of vitamin C. None of his patients developed paralysis.

In 1949, Klenner related his findings at the Annual Meeting of the American Medical Association, and asked doctors to comment. One authority on polio ignored his monumental finding, instead promoting the need for tracheotomy in polio patients. Other polio specialists commented, but none referred to the use of vitamin C. It is almost unbelievable that this happened.

Has anyone ever noticed how quack claims are so difficult to track down. Many of them tend to involve events that happened many decades ago that have, over the many retellings, evolved into legends. Think Max Gerson and his “50 cases.” Think Cantron/Entelev/Procell. The list goes on.

A search for Klenner and his polio “cure” yields hits that nearly all come from pro-quackery sites, such as Whale.to and Orthomolecular.org. There’s also a chapter in a free book in which he describes his beliefs and evidence that vitamin C can cure polio. It is basically identical to this publication, represented as his actual presentation to the AMA in 1949. One aspect of his treatment that amazed me was that this was some truly high dose vitamin C. I mean, seriously. Klenner administered 2,000 mg (that’s 2 g, people) of ascorbate every six hours (8 g/day) supplemented with 1,000 to 2,000 mg by mouth every two hours (that’s 12 to 24 g). So basically, Klenner treated polio with 20 to 32 g per day of ascorbate. for the prototypical 70 kg man used in medical school as a teaching reference for drug doses, that’s nearly half a gram per kg body weight. In the Wikipedia entry on Klenner, which is remarkably skepticism-free, he is described as having administered up to 300,000 mg (300 g!) of ascorbate per day. For those who aren’t scientists in the US and therefore might be metric system-challenged, that’s 0.66 lb of ascorbate.

A search of Pubmed on F. R. Klenner reveals five publications, ranging from 1948 to 1952, all of them in the same journal, which doesn’t appear to be a particularly prominent journal, and unfortunately no abstracts available for any of them. (Whatever his other publications, I’m guessing, they must not be indexed in PubMed.) A review of the titles of the articles match the titles of chapters in a book, Injectable Vitamin C: Effective Treatment for Viral and Other Diseases. It includes titles such as: The Vitamin and Massage Treatment for Acute Poliomyelitis and Massive Doses of Vitamin C and the Virus Diseases, among others, all with the same theme, namely that massive doses of vitamin C will cure pretty much any viral disease that ails you. The other theme running through this is that there are no clinical trials. All there are are case reports and case series, all uncontrolled.

The biggest of these is the 60 patients with polio whom Klenner allegedly cured with his massive doses of vitamin C. Given how long ago this is and how little detail was given, coupled with the lack of any control group, we have no way of knowing whether his combined intravenous/oral vitamin C regimen did anything whatsoever. In any case, it’s not hard to figure out the reason why we don’t use megadose vitamin C for polio or other viral diseases now. In the case of polio, publications about vitamin C and polio petered out over the next couple of decades, at least as far as a search of PubMed indicates. In any case, in a review article about the use of megadose vitamin C in “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), it is noted:

Soon after its discovery and synthesis in 1932, parenteral vitamin C was shown to significantly decrease polio virus infections in primates [31], [32]. Although these findings were not repeatable [33], [34], one practitioner treated thousands of patients with parenteral vitamin C, primarily for infections, and popularized its use [2], [3], [5]. Such reports probably were a basis for continued use of parenteral vitamin C by other CAM practitioners [6], [7], [35].

The abstract of one of these early positive papers is particularly amusing to read:

The experimental evidence presented in this paper shows that multiple paralytic doses of poliomyelitis virus, when mixed with very small amounts of crystalline vitamin C (ascorbic acid), are rendered non-infectious as determined by intracerebral injection of such mixtures into rhesus monkeys.

In other words, crystalline ascorbic acid rendered viruses noninfectious? Who knew? Actually, what was done in this paper was to mix 0.1 ml of the supernatant of a 10 per cent poliomyelitis cord suspension (basically, they ground up spinal cords of monkeys with polio, centrifuged the, and used the supernatant containing the virus) with varying amounts of ascorbate neutralized to pH 6.6 to 6.8. This mixture was then injected intracerebrally. This mixture, with varying amounts of ascorbate, was then injected intracerebrally into rhesus monkey brains and the results checked. My guess here is that the virus was inactivated because the concentration of vitamin C in the actual mixture injected was very high (up to 100 mg/ml), and the virus/vitamin C mixtures were incubated overnight at 37° C. In other words, this study really didn’t tell us much.

It should also be noted that, contrary to Klenner’s claims, high dose vitamin C can indeed cause complications, such as oxalate nephropathy. In any case, Klenner became one of the “originators” of the quackery known as orthomolecular medicine, which has been discussed here many times and was popularized in the 1970s by Linus Pauling with his use of high dose vitamin C to treat the common cold and cancer. The central dogma of orthomolecular medicine seems to be that if some nutrient is good, megadoses of that nutrient are much better and can cure anything. Orthomolecular medicine has also been “integrated” into the quackery known as functional medicine.

That’s why it’s so depressing to see Dr. Gifford-Jones conclude:

What is appalling is that researchers and doctors should know that vitamin C has cured viral diseases like Yellow Fever, Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever Dengue Fever and other viral diseases. But no expert has mentioned the possibility of using large doses of vitamin C to cure Ebola infection.

Klenner and Dr. Robert F Cathcart, an expert in viral diseases, have stressed that it’s the proper dosage that cures all viral diseases. This means giving massive doses of both oral and intravenous vitamin C. Cathcart estimates it would take 240,000 milligrams every 24 hours to beat the Ebola virus.

No. Cathcart was not an expert in infectious disease. He was an orthopedic surgeon who turned to the dark side of orthomolecular medicine and who now has his own page of praise on Whale.to. Vitamin C does not “cure all viral diseases” if only you give a dose high enough. And the Windsor Star should be ashamed for publishing this tripe, even on its blog.