Paracelsus: 1493 - 1541


            The above quote is more surprising for its antiquity than for its common sense.  Parcelsus was arguably the most eminent physician of the middle ages. As the historians of science tell us: we stand on the shoulders of giants. In the spirit of Paracelsus' dictum, we need to seek the right doses very carefully and from unlikely sources, not neglecting folklore as a source of knowledge.


            Vlhjalmar Stefansson was a unique arctic explorer in that he learned to live as the Eskimos do, off the land. This enabled him to remain healthy during expeditions of several years duration without returning to civilization for more supplies. At one point, during a sojourn in one of our cities, he participated in a nutritional experiment that demonstrated how the Eskimos' diet is adequate even though almost entirely from animal sources. An interesting detail: they ate the adrenal glands of their prey. It turned out that these glands are high in vitamin C. Vilhjalmar also told his nutritionists that the Eskimos had taught him that you must never eat polar bear liver because it would be fatal within 24 hours. After the main experiments were complete and successful in demonstrating that an all meat diet could be adequate if you eat most of the giblets, one of the scientists obtained a polar bear liver and found that one ordinary sized portion of it contained 1,000 times the human daily requirements of vitamin A, an acutely fatal dose.


 Other vitamins are medically useful even in unnaturally large doses.  Vitamin C as ascorbic acid is the least toxic substance for acidifying the urine.  A dose of 10 to 30 times the daily requirement suffices for this frequently desirable end. Vitamin C also enhances the absorption of iron by maintaining the iron in its bivalent form--very useful for people who are "donating" maximum amounts of their own blood prior to elective surgery.  This procedure prevents transmission of blood borne diseases.  Another example: 50 to 100 tines the requirement of niacin (vitamin B3) taken daily becomes a powerful drug for lowering cholesterol.  Niacin is not used very much for this purpose because it has an almost universal side effect (which can usually be overcome). These large doses also occasionally affect the liver, but no more often than the prescription medications with which niacin competes. You could be forgiven for wondering why the enormous dose of a vitamin used for a totally different purpose is not a prescription-only drug, as the others are, given that niacin in these doses is at least as toxic.


            About 10 years ago the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) proposed to limit the per tablet dose of non-prescription vitamins to 2-3 times the daily requirement. The health food industry responded with campaign contributions to congressmen of both parties and requests to their customers to write to the congress. The voices of the FDA and interested experts were drowned in a flood of dollars. Now the public spends billions of dollars per year on unproven "alternative" remedies, an order of magnitude more than the cost of national campaign expenses.  I am sure that other special interests, not in my sphere of knowledge, are achieving similar "success".


            The NIH (National Institute of Health) now has a research division mandated to study the results of alternative medical therapies.  A year or so after congress funded this research an otherwise eminent senator who had sponsored this new direction for the NIH chided them for few results, stating they should have talked to a few people who were cured and immediately approved



the successful remedies.  Many of us (but not enough of us) know that valid scientific results cannot be achieved by testimonials.  Testimonials are like finding that polar bear liver is toxic.  The real work comes after that.


            This entire article might be regarded as an appeal for more scientific literacy in our educated public. Scientific literacy means some comprehension of the methods of science, not just "gee whiz" about the astonishing accomplishments. I am sure to bring up scientific literacy again and again.


John A.Frantz, M.D.

Chairperson-Board of Health

April, 2000



            Ignorance and credulity have ever been companions, and have misled and enslaved mankind: philosophy has in all ages endeavored to oppose their progress and to loosen the shackles they had imposed: philosophers have on this account been called unbelievers; unbelievers of what? of the fictions of fancy, of witchcraft, hobgoblins, apparitions, vampires, fairies, of the influence of stars on human affairs, miracles wrought by the bones of saints…..fortune tellers…...with endless variety of folly?  These they have disbelieved and despised, but have ever bowed their hoary heads to Truth and Nature.

                                                                                                William Godwin 1756-1836



BS  Detection


Did you ever wonder why a college graduate is required to have a major field of study? Four years of full loads of course work is not enough. A subtle benefit of in depth knowledge of at least one subject is that it permits a personal check on the reliability of sources such as newspapers and magazines. If their information in the field in which you are expert is seriously faulty, that is grounds for not trusting them in an area where you are less well informed.


When I was a child, Charles Lindbergh was rich and famous. Reporters were very anxious to quote him on almost any topic, especially politics. Why was his opinion about matters other than aviation so highly valued by the public? So be very careful about the credentials of your sources. Even Lindbergh was probably not highly qualified in aeronautical engineering.


BS can mean at least two things.  MS is "more of the same" and PhD is "piled higher and deeper".