Linus Pauling and Vitamin C, a lesson

Every morning, waiting for the delicious sweet and sour fizzy orange vitamin C tab to dissolve in the glass of water was part of the breakfast ritual. Maybe I should emphasize that this 1000mg Vitamin C was given in addition to a fresh squeezed orange juice, bananas and whatever other fruits of the season that the Carribbean island I am from had to offer. Having our daily quota of vitamins growing up was a must for my parents. Today, I seldom skip my “Emergen-C drink” before starting my day, attributing to vitamin C my capacity  to balance social life with long work-study days. Praising to others the importance of vitamin C in my every day diet, and stating from my own observations that it even reduces the chances for cold sores to occur, I tried to find in literature some support for my claims. After all, it could simply be a placebo for me, especially given the psychological dimension of  it given its link to my childhood…
Even though I could not find much data in renowned journals about vitamin C and Herpex Simplex (a.k.a. cold sore), I was a little comforted to see that somehow, somewhere on the planet, it had been researched. However, the one thing that made me feel happily satisfied was to discover that the person who would had given the strongest support to my beliefs (aside from my own father), was none other than Dr. Linus Pauling.
Yes, the same Pauling whose principle will inevitably be learned by anyone taking a General Chemistry class. The same Linus Pauling who set the path for Watson and Crick in their discovery of the double helix (actually named after Pauling’s α-helix protein structure!). Pauling, who on top of being one of the greatest chemists of the 20th century, was also a great humanitarian and earned not only one but two unshared Nobel Prizes! One for Chemistry (at 30 years old), and one for Peace (he was a fearless peace activist)… Well, here it is! Pauling has also pioneered research on  vitamins!
Sadly, reading further, I also learned that it was this same research on vitamin C that caused his reputation as scientist to go down the drain, as he became considered more like a mad man, blinded by his obsession. Recent findings have undermined the widespread beliefs in the benefits of vitamins.
Many questions since then remain in my mind. First of all, isn’t obsession needed for research? My answer is yes. In fact, whole communities of researchers are needed to question results to not only weed out bias, but also further a cause. On the other hand, where is the line between criticism and ridicule? How much more objective is the other party that wants to prove the scientist wrong? It seems that Pauling went a little far with his claims regarding Vitamin C, even arguing that it was the cure to cancer and could prolong lifespans to 150 years. Could his age (70 years old at the time) be to blame for such a great thinker to loose rationality? It is hard to believe that a person who relied for most of his life on proven facts, would not have some rational basis to consider that deficiency in diet is linked to diseases.

One might reply that, despite his  achievements, Pauling was not invincible. After all, he was convinced that genetic material was made of protein and not nucleic acid. Nevertheless, his conclusions were based on facts and even though his research did not lead to the final result on the discovery of DNA, it has certainly highly contributed to it.
Pauling’s contemporaries from the research field have deconstructed his beliefs through leading studies. Results have even shown that high doses of vitamin C can increase mortality and disease occurrence (the “antioxidant-paradox”). However, some of Pauling’s followers argue that many of theses studies have been poorly designed and do not properly assess the effects of vitamins on individuals…

Although I wish I had the time and skills to go through all these pro or against vitamins papers and evaluate how each study was conducted to build my own opinion, what I believe there is to learn from this is that critical thinking in whatever we read and the actions we take are essential; no matter how great our achievements can be in a lifetime, our views and beliefs are never infallible.


Offit, Paul. “The Vitamin Myth: Why We Think We Need Supplements.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 19 July 2013. Web. 21 July 2014.


Happiness: A Key to Health

When was the last time you felt happy? Blissfully content and without a care in the world? Do you remember what you physically felt? Chances are you felt pretty well. While research is still being established, happiness “has been correlated with better health, both in individuals and communities” (1). As you intrinsically know, happiness improves many aspects of our lives. Yet how does it affect our health, and how can we maximize it in our lives?

From her research and analysis, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky (2) established that there are essentially three sources of happiness:

-Our genes (50%)

-Life circumstances beyond our control (10%)

Our own actions (40%)

While we may be predisposed to a certain level of happiness as determined by our genes, there is still much we can do to take control of our happiness levels. Potentially shocking to those of us living in a material world is the mere 10% of our happiness that is attributed to life circumstances (i.e. “whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced” (3)). In fact, Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology, has said that once one’s income passes the threshold of providing basic needs such as “buying food, warmth, and dental treatment” (4), more money does not necessarily increase happiness. In an article by Craig Lambert published in the Harvard Magazine, Gilbert claims that “the difference between an annual income of $5,000 and one of $50,000 is dramatic,” yet says that “going from $50,000 to $50 million will not dramatically affect happiness”(4).

Similarly, in Lyubomirsky’s book The how of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Lyubomirsky reports that “the richest Americans, those earning more than ten million dollars annually, report levels of personal happiness only slightly greater than the office staffs and blue-collar workers they employ (3).

This leaves us open to opportunities granted by our decisions. Clearly, it is not a matter of simply deciding to become happier. Like anything else in life, increasing or maintaining our happiness levels requires effort. While each individual and their circumstances are unique, there are general methods that can help you to increase your happiness levels (5):

  • Recall things you are grateful for daily
  • Just let it go: foster forgiveness
  • Practice meditation, yoga, and/or other techniques to dispel negative thoughts and emotions
  • Have a supportive network of friends and family

Laughing yoga is one such technique that can instill happiness. Aside from having the power to brighten up a dull day, laughter also entails health benefits. In fact, we “change physiologically when we laugh” (6). Research has proven that blood flow, immune response, blood sugar levels, and sleep are all possibly improved by laughter. If you can recall a time when you begged someone to stop continuing a hilarious spiel because your stomach ached form laughing so hard, then it probably won’t come as a surprise that “laughter appears to burn calories, too” (6).

Laughing yoga is not the only option for obtaining the benefits of higher levels of happiness. Laura Kubzansky, a Harvard School of Public Health associate professor of society, human development, and health, has researched the relationship between positive emotions and health. In a 2007 study, she found that the risk of coronary heart disease seemed to be reduced by “emotional vitality – a sense of enthusiasm, of hopefulness, of engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance” (7). In other work, Kubzansky found that optimism halved the risk of coronary heart disease, and that heart disease was linked to worry (7).

The recent growth of interest in the study of happiness, or positive psychology, has brought it to the mainstream, and research continues to elucidate the scientific links between happiness and health. As we strive to achieve success in the world, lets first redefine success, then work towards achieving it with a smile on our faces.



1)   Srivastavea, Anjuli. “How Happiness Affects Your Health.” ABC News, 2013. Web. 19 July 2014.

2)   “What is happiness?” NOVA/WGBH Science Unit and Vulcan Productions, 2011. Web. 19 July 2014.

3)   Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. Penguin Group, 2007. Print

4)   Lambert, Craig. “The Science of Happiness.” Harvard Magazine. January-February 2007. Web. 19 July 2014.

5)   Valeo, Tom. “Choosing to be Happy.” WebMD, n.d. Web. 19 July 2014.

6)   Griffin, R. Morgan. “Give Your Body a Boost – With Laughter.” WebMD, n.d. Web. 19 July 2014.

7)   Rimer, Sara. “The biology of emotion – and what it may teach us about helping people to live longer.” HSPH News. Harvard School of Public Health, 2011. Web. 19 July 2014.