Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Carl Pfeiffer and Orthomolecular Medicine

Carl Curt Pfeiffer, MD, PhD, was the Chair of the Pharmacology Department at the Emory University, which is known for its superb psychiatric research. At some point in his career, the State of New Jersey tasked him with investigating the causes of the more serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Not only do these illnesses cause huge disruptions in the lives of those so afflicted, but they also pose a significant burden to the taxpayer.

After doing all sorts of tests - examining patients' blood and urine for unusual substances and characteristics, looking at hair mineral contents and much, much, more Dr. Pfeiffer, (and some coworkers) announced that they had made a number of breakthroughs.

  • 30 to 40 some percent of this patient population, they announced, had a previously unknown form of Wilson's disease, a disease in which toxic copper accumulates in the brain.
  • Another 30 to 40 some percent had a disorder in their body's ability to synthesize hemoglobin, which caused the depletion of vitamin B6 and Zinc, which are crucial to a well-tempered brain. Other scientists, mainly Abram Hoffer had identified this anomaly, which involves unusual amounts of a pyrole in the urine, by comparing the stain that results when the urine of schizophrenics is applied to blotting paper to the stain that results when the urine of healthy individuals is applied to blotting paper. (Pyroluria in the orthomolecular lexicon.)
  • Another 10 or so percent had very unusual blood chemistries, (Histadelia in the orthomolecular lexicon)
  • another 4 percent or so suffered under food allergies which had not been diagnosed because they only affected the brain.
  • Dr. Pfeiffer attributed the last 10 percent to various rare causes including, among others, lead poisoning, an anomaly in monoamine oxidase, and some unidentifiable causes.

Even more dramatically, Dr. Pfeiffer and his co-workers found that most of the conditions he had discovered could be treated with nutritional supplements instead of expensive and side-effect laden medications. Interestingly enough, Ashley Bush, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, is reporting that some forms of Alzheimer's most likely are caused by the same tendency to accumulate copper that Dr. Pfeiffer identified as a cause of schizophrenia.

At the time that Pfeiffer published all this, psychiatric treatment in the United States, even for bipolar disorder, consisted of sessions of psychoanalysis of questionable efficacy, and strong medications. If there is a very real biological problem at the root of the illness, no amount of talking about one's early childhood or supposed repressed sexual frustrations will do the patient any good from a medical or financial point of view. Dr. Pfeiffer's findings that these illnesses had clear biological causes, and could quickly be cured by the use of nutritional supplements - that is without patented medications - and by general practitioners - was not entirely welcome.

The American Psychiatric Association convened a panel to investigate Dr. Pfeiffer's findings. To this day it is unclear if they got a fair hearing; one member of the panel went into it saying that even if every other psychiatrist in the United States would adopt Dr. Pfeiffer's therapies, he would refuse to believe that they worked. In any event, the panel found that there was no evidence that Dr. Pfeiffer's diagnostic or therapeutic guidelines had any validity. Nor did the panel deign to answer the rebuttal to its findings. This is not to claim that all the members of this panel were hellbent on promoting patented pharmacological preparations; one of the experts, Loren Mosher, once responsible for such research at the NIH, had sacrificed his career to advance his own non-mainstream views that such disorders (sometimes) remit without any pharmacological intervention, an approach now sometimes practiced in Europe. It has yet to be explained why a man so fanatically intent on grinding his axe was included in a panel ostensibly intended to be impartial.

Curiously enough, there is a clinic on the outskirts of Chicago devoted to treating patients according to Dr. Pfeiffer's guidelines. Among its thousands and thousands of patients, it has managed to successfully treat 65% of its patients without patented medications; in another 25% they see marked improvements. Either they have some of the best placebos known to mankind, or else Dr. Pfeiffer and his co-workers were onto something. I suspect that some further discoveries have been made in the years since Dr. Pfeiffer and his co-workers did their investigation. Specifically, there is much evidence to suggest that heavy metals can cause the unusual substances found in the urine (kryptopyroles) and the unusual blood counts (histadelia) of which Dr. Pfeiffer wrote.

Be all this as it may, if I, or one of my loved ones, labored under the illnesses Dr. Pfeiffer sought to treat, I would be sure to acquaint myself with his work, and see what relief could be obtained. This book is the perfect introduction to his findings for lay readers.


International Society for Orthomolecular Medicine

The Pfeiffer Treatment Center

Earth House. Founded by Dr. Carl Pfeiffer.


Carl Pfeiffer, MD, PhD, Nutrition and Mental Illness: An Orthomolecular Approach to Balancing Body Chemistry An excellent introduction to Dr. Pfeiffer and his work.

Eva Edelmann, Natural Healing for Schizophrenia: And Other Common Mental Disorders A more thorough, extremely well documented resource for those interested by the work of Drs. Pfeiffer, Hoffer et al.

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