Linus Pauling: Maverick or Messiah?

Few scientists in the 20th century have engendered as much controversy as Linus Pauling. Having first won a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1954 for his use of quantum mechanics to elucidate the nature of chemical bonds, he again gained international attention in 1962 by winning a Nobel Prize for peace for his work against nuclear weapons testing. It was his crusade on behalf of vitamin C beginning in the early 1970s, however, that won him lasting media fame.

In one of the first ever published meta-analyses, Pauling synthesized the results of four studies of exceedingly poor quality on the use of vitamin C for common colds and came to the astonishing conclusion that it could reduce their incidence by more than 50%. There ensued 21 years of best-selling books, lectures, and vitriolic debate, during which his growing zeal for what he called "orthomolecular" medicine led him to claim that high doses of vitamin C could treat everything from cancer to schizophrenia. As his zeal grew, however, so did his isolation from the mainstream scientific community.

By the time Pauling died in 1994, at the age of 93, he had increased his intake of vitamin C to 18 g/d (300 times the RDI), boosting his intake to 40 g/d at the first signs of a cold. After his death, his supporters wasted no time in attributing his longevity to, in part, the greater than 100 kg of vitamin C that he consumed in the last two decades of his life.