The field of orthomolecular medicine originated with Nobel laureate Linus Pauling when he proposed that vitamin C was useful in treating and preventing the common cold. Biochemical imbalances are associated with most, if not all, diseases. Sometimes these imbalances are the cause of the disease and other times they result from the disease. In either event, restoring normal biochemical balance is essential in restoring normal health.
The administration of large doses of certain natural substances that are needed by the body will help restore normal biochemical balance and function of the body. For example, depression results from low levels of serotonin. Certain antidepressants function like a dam causing the serotonin levels to rise. However, this disrupts the normal processes in the brain involving serotonin and may result in undesirable side effects. In orthomolecular medicine, the precursor 5-hydoxytryptamine (5HTP) is administered which is converted directly in the brain into serotonin. Thus, the brain serotonin levels rise naturally avoiding the undesirable side effects found with drug therapy. This particular example of orthomolecular medicine is referred to as precursor therapy since the actual substance, serotonin, is not used but instead, the direct precursor is administered in order to cross the blood-brain barrier since serotonin will not.
Orthomolecular medicine can be more effective or as effective as conventional medicines in most cases, however, pharmacological intervention is generally faster acting and more effective in life-threatening or acute critical situations. Once the crisis has been overcome, it is often more desirable to gradually move towards restoration of a natural, normal balance within the body rather than manage symptoms. Patients should not attempt to self-treat as it takes a health professional to determine the types of orthomolecular medicines, dosages, times of administration, and route of administration that will be most effective.