A Belfastman's quest to find out if a simple vitamin pill can beat some of our cruellest illnesses
In a new documentary film, 20 of the world's top nutrition experts claim that 'megadoses' of vitamins can prevent and cure diseases from mental illness to cancer. Northern Ireland film-maker Michael Beattie outlines his journey into the world of 'megavitamins' and reveals the hidden 65-year history of successful treatments.
It's a sobering fact that prescription medications are in the top 10 killers of Americans. US government statistics show that 80,000 people die every year from drugs correctly prescribed and taken as directed. That figure only covers hospitals.
In reality the figure is much higher. Some estimates suggest 180,000 people or even more. And there's no reason to believe the picture is much different here.
Things are particularly bad for patients on multiple medications. Often one drug is given to counter the side effects of another. And then a third to counter the side effects of that, and so on.
I've now found the proof that humble, inexpensive vitamins can sometimes replace drugs completely, or at least work in association with medication to make patients well with absolutely no risk and no side effects.
And I've talked to a range of highly-respected doctors from around the world who are convinced that nutritional medicine, known as orthomolecular medicine, is cheaper than drugs, more effective than drugs, and safer than drugs.
A year ago I knew nothing about this. Until a friend told me he'd finally got rid of the depression that had plagued his adult life - by cutting sugar from his diet and taking large doses of vitamin B3, known as niacin, along with other nutrients.
At first I couldn't believe it. That a simple vitamin could achieve in a matter of weeks what years of medication couldn't. But the proof was before me.
Trevor King, a Northern Ireland businessman and my friend for 30 years, told me the RDA (recommended daily amount) of B3 is less than 20 mg. On the advice of a nutritionist he called 'Megavitamin Man', Trevor was taking 150 times that amount every day, and it was clearly making a massive difference to his life.
Northern Ireland has the highest use of antidepressants in Europe. And our tragic suicide figures are well-known. So if these vitamin claims are true, it's something people need to hear about.
Such was Trevor's enthusiasm to share his experience and help others, that he suggested we visit the American nutritionist who advised him, with a view to making a film about vitamins.
So, along with cameraman Sai Kelly, we travelled to upstate New York, near the Niagara Falls, to see Andrew Saul and begin our education in 'megadose' vitamins.
That initial meeting started a year-long journey that would cover thousands of miles and bring me face to face with doctors and nutrition experts from Mexico to Tokyo, from Oslo to Toronto.
Andrew Saul is an educator rather than a doctor. He's specialised in nutrition for 40 years and has written a range of books translated into a host of languages. He has advised thousands of people through his website doctoryourself.com. He's used nutritional medicine within his own family for years. He told me vitamin C works as an antibiotic, an antitoxin and an antipyretic (lowering fever.) When any illness struck, he immediately gave his children very high doses of vitamin C. He told me they made it through childhood without ever visiting a paediatrician, and he's proud that when he waved them off to college, they'd never had an antibiotic. I don't know anyone who got through their childhood and teens without an antibiotic.
I visited Andrew's daughter Helen and she confirmed what he'd told me. She is now using vitamin C with her own children - 4,000 mg on a normal day, and much more if there's a hint of any illness or infection.
Andrew pointed me to the work of Robert Klenner (1907-1984). He published 27 medical papers on the benefits of vitamin C for over 30 diseases including polio (he cured all 60 of his polio patients) and multiple sclerosis. He was using doses as high as 300,000 mg back in the Forties.
Then there's Abram Hoffer (1917-2009). He's regarded as the grandfather of orthomolecular medicine. He was a Canadian biochemist, physician and psychiatrist who used megavitamin therapy in the Fifties to treat schizophrenia and other mental illness.
Hoffer also discovered that niacin could be used to lower cholesterol.
One of Dr Hoffer's patients was Bill W, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill W was so convinced of the benefits of vitamin B3 in treating alcoholic depression, that he wrote several academic papers advocating its use.
In 1954, Linus Pauling won a Nobel prize for chemistry based on his work with vitamin C. He became interested in vitamins after reading one of Hoffer's books and publicity around his Nobel award is probably why children of my generation who lived through the Fifties were given little orange vitamin C tablets to help prevent the common cold.
There's a long history and years of research into orthomolecular medicine, and I was soon accepting most of what I was uncovering. Of course, megadose vitamin therapy has its detractors, and those who question its validity, but talking to people at the forefront of nutrition had left me convinced of its benefits.
In Toronto, for example, I met a psychiatrist having significant success using nutritional treatments. Jonathan Prousky told me that patients using antipsychotic medication can have their lives shortened by as much as 20 to 25 years. He works to wean them off those drugs.
"The current climate of mental health care is abysmal. It's godawful. Psychiatric drugs aren't correcting any biochemical problem. They're actually creating biochemical problems by disabling certain processes in the brain to de-intensify symptoms."
Jonathan's particularly concerned about children being given medication for conditions such as ADHD. "It's disgusting, it's despicable, it's inhumane to be drugging our kids when their brains are so vulnerable.
"Ritalin works like cocaine. The exact same areas of the brain light up. They almost look indistinguishable. And we think this is a good approach to their mental health and wellbeing?
"There's no defect in the brain of a child with ADHD. It's never been found and it never will. The only defects are found in kids who are on medication. We're creating brain-damaged children, to some degree."
In Tokyo, renowned physician Atsuo Yanagisawa treated workers from Fukushima after the nuclear power station disaster in 2011. He was able to reduce their elevated cancer risk scores back to normal, using large doses of vitamin C administered intravenously.
He also successfully treated teenage girls suffering severe spasms and convulsions in reaction to the HPV vaccine. Again he used vitamin C to dramatic effect, quickly bringing his patients back to normal.
One of the big questions for me is why all this research and success over six decades isn't better known. I've been a journalist and filmmaker for 40 years and this is the first time I've heard of the benefits of megadose vitamin therapy.
The answer most often given is that big pharma, the drug companies who have the biggest business in America, do their best to suppress it.
Andrew Saul told me: "Medical schools get a lot of money from drug companies, the media gets lots of advertising revenue from them, medical researchers get grant money from them, and governments are lobbied to a huge degree by them. So we have the pharmaceutical industry having way too much say in what doctors learn. They learn surgery and they learn about drugs. But they still don't learn much about nutrition."
In Florida, Dr Joe Mercola said he realised early in his medical career that he was only treating symptoms rather than the real cause of a particular condition, and he switched to natural healing.
For 40 years he's been recommending simpler, cheaper nutritional approaches. "I've committed my life to exposing the fraud, the deception, the lies of the big drug companies so that people don't have to die needlessly and suffer painful, miserable deaths for the primary benefit of improving the bottom line of these large corporations."
In Puerto Rico, I met two men whose groundbreaking work treating cancer patients with vitamin C is now beginning to see wider acceptance.
Michael Gonzalez and Jorge Miranda Massari have a passion born of personal tragedy. They've both lost several family members to cancer. Jorge lost his mother, his father and his wife.
"Three years ago we published the bio-energetic theory of carcinogenesis, which states that cancer is a metabolic disease and it's an energy problem. More and more oncologists are now accepting this because there's more evidence that supplements can improve energy and correct the metabolism."
Michael Gonzalez explained that cancer cells have more glucose receptors than normal cells, and that vitamin C "fools" them: "They think vitamin C is glucose, so they bring it in and in the presence of oxygen you have two hydrogens and two oxygens which produces hydrogen peroxide which kills cancer cells but doesn't affect healthy cells."
That's echoed by Sayer Ji, a natural health researcher who runs Green Med Info, providing free access to research papers on natural health.
"One study I uncovered really blew my mind. They administered vitamin C to a cancer cell in a petri dish. And the cancer cell started to differentiate back into a healthy cell. So it actually started to go from a cancer cell to a healthy cell just with vitamin C."
But despite all these positive stories, the experts I met agree that vitamins on their own are no "magic bullet". The old advice we all know, whether we act on it or not, still holds good.
We have to eat a healthy diet, and according to the experts it should be plant-based and, as far as possible, organic. We need to keep our bodies hydrated with quality drinking water, and we need to move, to get exercise.
But we all need those supplements, too. Even the best diets will no longer supply all the nutrients we need.
I'm certainly convinced by what I've learned during my travels. And whether you're a believer or a sceptic, you'll find a lot to interest you in That Vitamin Movie, which is free to view online for the first two weeks of January at www.thatvitaminmovie.com. It's also the first Northern Ireland-made film I'm aware of that will go worldwide with subtitles in Russian, Chinese, Turkish, Portuguese and Spanish.
- And it will also have extra features including a timeline of orthomolecular pioneers, and specific advice on specific medical conditions from the Megavitamin Man who launched us on this journey, Andrew Saul, www.doctoryourself.com.