Nutrients and mental health


Abram Hoffer PhD, MD.

When Canadian psychiatrist Dr Abram Hoffer began formulating his ideas about the possible biochemical causes of mental illness in the early 1950s the main treatments available were Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) and tranquilizers. Through clinical practice and his pioneering of double blind trials in Psychiatry he developed theories which led to treatments which he found so effective that his Hippocratic Oath precluded him from giving the placebo required for double blind trials, leading him to focus on clinical trials. Interest mounted in this intricate treatment method which was dubbed ‘Megavitamin Therapy’ but which fitted into what double Nobel laureate Dr Linus Pauling termed ‘Orthomolecular Psychiatry‘ which later was expanded to ‘Orthomolecular Medicine’.

Things came to a head in 1973 with the release of the report by the American Psychiatric Association task force on vitamin therapy in Psychiatry which roundly excoriated the approach due to the fact that the studies they had commissioned into the matter had failed to replicate Hoffer’s results, and there was even evidence that patients had been worse off on the treatment. This led to the abandonment of all independent research into the matter and the disgrace of the approach, leading to the rise and dominance of  psychopharmatherapy as it exists today.

Three years after the damning report Hoffer eventually came out with his response in which he cast serious doubt on the impartiality of the task force committee, pointed out their apparent conflicts of interest, and criticized their ignorance of the subject matter. He explained the lack of replication of results on the fact that the studies relied upon had never actually replicated his methods. The most troubling accusation of all was that the results of the study which found a worsening of the illness were obtained by deliberately adding methionine in a dosage which according to his theory was guaranteed to achieve this effect.

In essence there was no reason to add this extra component except if the designers of the experiments were aware of its effect. It seems unlikely any patient would have volunteered for trials which they had been made aware were aimed at worsening their symptoms. This means in the absence of properly informed consent those involved in designing and running the trials would have broken their Hippocratic Oaths and violated the spirit of the Declaration of Helsinki which was aimed at preventing a reoccurrence of the horrors of forced Medical experimentation perpetrated by the Nazis only a few decades previously. While this is contentious and could not be laid directly at the door of the APA it does raise questions as to the ethical standards of the Medical experimentation used in this report.