Tributes to the late pioneer of orthomolecular psychiatry and medicine

It is with great regret that we have learned of the passing of Dr Abram Hoffer MD, PhD, the Canadian orthomolecular psychiatrist and researcher, and editor of the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine.

He and his co-workers are credited with discoveries about the therapeutic uses of vitamins, which are the roots of orthomolecular psychiatry and medicine as it is known today. They were also the first doctors in North America to conduct double-blind controlled tests in psychiatry, and were later the first to recognise and to publish its many defects and flaws.

Born in Southern Saskatchewan, Canada, his initial interest was in agriculture and biochemistry, leading to a Masters degree in agricultural chemistry in 1940. After completing a PhD in 1944, he became interested in human nutrition, earning his MD in 1949. He qualified in psychiatry in 1954 and became a Fellow in the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (Canada). Through his position as Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Psychiatric Research, he was then able to begin his psychiatric research.

Dr Hoffer and co-workers were instrumental in the discovery that megadoses of vitamin B3 (nicotinic acid/niacin) were therapeutic for schizophrenia and can be used to lower cholesterol levels. Their discovery, published in 1955, is credited with the initiation of the new paradigm in nutritional medicine, i.e. the use of vitamins for treatment and not just for prevention of deficiency disease. From initial work with Dr H Osmond and Dr J Smythies, Dr Hoffer and Dr Osmond went on to develop the 'adrenochrome hypothesis of schizophrenia'.

Dr Hoffer became frustrated by the severe restrictions to his freedom to publish or discuss the results of his work by his employers, the University of Saskatchewan and the Department of Public Health. He spoke of the psychiatric establishment being violently opposed to his work, "which did not have the support of the drug companies who were promoting their own products, the tranquilizers. Not a single attempt was made to repeat our double blind controlled studies (five), nor to examine our claims clinically. I decided I could be more effective free of any of these adverse influences".

Thus he continued his work in private practice from 1967, helping and healing thousands of patients, enabling transformations in their lives, which it was clear to him, could not be achieved through the use of tranquilisers. He published much about his work, and when the orthodox medical and psychiatric literature would no longer accept his views, he published it in books, and in his own journal, which later became the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. With Dr Irwin Stone, Hoffer introduced Linus Pauling to nutritional medicine which led to its benefits becoming widely known today.

His main interest during all those years was to promote the principles of orthomolecular medicine and psychiatry. He said "I am pleased with my medical colleagues who are quickly moving into this modern paradigm, and am very frustrated by the massive inertia of my psychiatric colleagues who are still waiting for the Holy Grail".

Dr Hoffer’s greatest wish was that these principles would be accepted into the mainstream during his lifetime. Sadly this was not to be, and it is now down to his colleagues in orthomolecular medicine, of whom he spoke so highly.

A great pioneer of a man, who gave much, faced many challenges, and resolutely never gave up hope, and for whom we need to continue the work of his new paradigm.

The ANH team


Dr Steve Hickey PhD, an active member of the ANH Expert Committee, has written the following tribute to Dr Hoffer:-


Hoffer's Marvelous Healing Personality

Abram Hoffer’s leadership and genius will be sorely missed. The last of a generation of great doctors and scientists in the field of nutritional medicine, he was an inspiration to all who knew him. Hoffer gained worldwide fame, firstly for his work on the origins of schizophrenia and, later, for his contributions to nutritional medicine.

To those who knew him, Hoffer had a spirited sense of humour and, in his own words, the hide of a politician. He needed that protection as, for much of his career, he was in conflict with prevailing ideas and paradigms in medical science.

On one occasion, I told him of my astonishment at seeing niacin, his favourite vitamin, transform a patient suffering from an intense psychotic episode back to normal functioning. His reply illustrates his good humour, despite decades of fighting the medical establishment:

"My critics never called me liar when I spoke about recoveries, but they knew that it was due to my  marvellous healing personality, as they also knew as a matter of fact that vitamins had absolutely nothing to do with schizophrenia. Now we know that you, too, have that marvellous personality. Congratulations."


Dr Steve Hickey


Dr Gert Schuitemaker PhD, also an active member of the ANH Expert Committee, has written the following tribute to Dr Hoffer:-

In the first years of the fifties Dr. Abram Hoffer introduced the new concept of treating illness with high dosages of nutrients. This was a mega-contribution to medicine and to the well-being of so many persons. He noticed that there was a similarity in symptoms of pellagra, the vitamin B3 deficiency disease, and in his patients with schizophrenia. He hypothesized that his patients needed higher dosages of the vitamin to respond. And he seemed to be right. Two time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling was impressed by the achievements of Abram Hoffer and coined the term ‘orthomolecular medicine’ (Science 1968; 160(825):265-71). His colleague psychiatrists were not grateful for this new therapeutic approach, which would minimalize the use of drugs. Abram Hoffer about this: 'I give my critics full credit for having delayed the full introduction of orthomolecular medicine into the medical world and for having denied life, health and happiness for innumerable patients. Supporters of old paradigms never realize how much damage they do by their remarkable rigidity and adherence to old theories.' So I am very, very glad to quote him in his last email to me: "we are starting to flourish. I think we have turned the corner."

What struck me most of Abram Hoffer were his sharp analyses, together with his humour. One of his statements: “my patient is cured when he is able to pay income tax”. A safe shelter and good nutrition, including mega vitamin therapy, were the pillars of his therapeutic approach. The care for his patients always came first.

Dr Gert Schuitemaker 


Below is a tribute to Dr Hoffer written by Dr Andrew W. Saul, Assistant Editor, Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine:-

Celebrating Dr Abram Hoffer

It was nearly 60 years ago that Abram Hoffer and his colleagues began curing schizophrenia with niacin. While some physicians are still waiting, those who have used niacin with patients and families know the immense practical value of what Dr. Hoffer discovered.

Abram Hoffer's life has not merely changed the face of psychiatry. He has changed the course of medicine for all time. His thirty books and over 500 scientific papers have yet to convince everybody, but they have well taught many of us. We who have seen the benefits will tell everybody. Such momentum is unstoppable.

Dr. Hoffer often said that it takes about two generations before a truly new medical idea is accepted. Perhaps in the case of megavitamin therapy,  just a tad longer than that. Great ideas in medicine, or anywhere else, are never self-evident. At least not unless a brilliant mind sees more than others have seen, and has the courage to speak out in the teeth of some often surprisingly bitter professional adversity.

If I were to pay one especially high compliment to Dr. Hoffer, it would be this: By experience, I have found everything he has written to be true.

Dr Andrew W. Saul

Assistant Editor, Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine


According to Charles Peguy “He who does not bellow the truth when he knows the truth makes himself the accomplice of liars and forgers”. Nobody could ever accuse Abram of failing to bellow the truth. He was a man of immense intelligence and integrity who spoke and wrote the truth regardless of personal cost. In so doing, he changed the world for the better. He is missed. 

Dr Harold D. Foster

Associate Editor, Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine


I can think of no words to describe the loss of a great doctor, a great man, a great nutrition pioneer, and friend. The world has lost a leader of Orthomolecular Medicine. I would like to think that he, Dr. Pauling, Dr. Riordan, Dr. Cathcart and the other great scientists are gathered around a table and planning a great Heavenly "Orthomolecular Meeting." I will miss him and his expert advice more than I can say!

Dr James A. Jackson 


Dr. Abram Hoffer was an intellectual giant and visionary who deserves my total admiration and respect.

Dr Michael J. Gonzalez  


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