Orthomolecular Nutrition: What Is It?

Orthomolecular nutrition has just as many supporters as it does opponents. It's been described by some sectors of medicine as fraudulent and unscientific. However, its therapists defend its validity, since it's based on basic principles of universal health.
Orthomolecular Nutrition: What Is It?
Anna Vilarrasa

Written and verified by the nutritionist Anna Vilarrasa.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Orthomolecular nutrition is a therapy based on the supply of nutrients to the body to make up for deficiencies caused by disease. These nutritional supplements must come from natural sources.

In the words of the AENTOC (Spanish Association of Orthomolecular Nutrition), orthomolecular nutrition aims to “promote the absence of disease in the patient and allow individuals to live in a good state of health.”

A brief historical review

Orthomolecular nutrition isn’t new. Linus Pauling, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954, was the first person to define the term orthomolecular.

Dr. Catherine Kousmine also used the treatment based on nutritional supplementation to treat diseases such as multiple sclerosis, polyarthritis, and some types of cancer. Today, the Kousmine Foundation dedicates its efforts to the training and further development of this doctor’s method.

One of her disciples, who treated a large number of patients in France, is Jean Seignalet. He wrote the book La nutrition ou la troisième médecine (“Diet or the Third Medicine”), which has several editions and has been translated into several languages.

How does orthomolecular nutrition work?

Fish on a cutting board, surrounded by vegetables, spices and legumes.
The design of orthomolecular nutrition diets is to cover the defecits originated by disease with natural elements.

According to the basis of this discipline, diseases originate due to a biochemical imbalance of the body that affects our cells, causing imbalances. By providing the cells with the right micronutrients, we achieve an optimal balance and proper functioning.

This is achieved by treating existing diseases, as we’ve seen above. But it can also improve non-specific ailments, such as migraines, lack of energy, and digestive problems.

The micronutrients necessary for our cells are:

  • Vitamins, such as those of the B group, vitamin C, or vitamin E.
  • Minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, or potassium.
  • Trace elements needed in very small amounts: Lithium, copper, or manganese.
  • Amino acids, among which we can mention L-glutamine, L-arginine, or L-carnitine.
  • Essential fatty acids, such as omega 3 and 6.

Read more: Discover the Properties and Benefits of Zinc

What does orthomolecular nutrition treatment consist of?

The treatment based on orthomolecular nutrition is always personalized and individual. A specialized doctor or therapist is in charge of assessing the patient’s nutritional status.

From some analytical tests, specialists can establish where the biochemical imbalance exists, what nutritional deficiencies exist, and what requires correction. Generally, the use of nutritional supplementation is necessary.

The first therapeutic tool is diet. These diets aim to provide optimal nutrition to the cells. They’re generally based on the intake of quality proteins, unsaturated fats, and complex carbohydrates.

These diets specifically avoid added sugars, dairy products, and saturated fats. Experts also usually recommend healthy lifestyle guidelines. For example, physical exercise and good rest, avoiding stress, and complementing treatment with other alternative therapies, if necessary.

Does orthomolecular nutrition have support from the medical sector?

A doctor holding a cutting board full of fruits and vegetables.
It’s a professional who determines the requirements in orthomolecular nutrition and elaborates the therapeutic plan.

As on many occasions, when we talk about diets and therapies, there are defenders and detractors of these tools. Let’s see what position they take on orthomolecular nutrition.

The limitations of this type of nutrition

Those who are critical of orthomolecular nutrition don’t consider it sufficiently reliable, especially because it’s not based on proven scientific studies. In addition, they also question the use of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

These are sometimes prescribed in quantities far above those that entities such as the EFSA (European Food Safety Agency) or the US Institute of Medicine officially recommend. Furthermore, according to these organizations, such high doses can cause adverse effects in the short and long term.

Some organizations and voices from the medical and nutrition sector -such as the Royal Academy of Spanish Medicine, the Spanish Association of Dietitians and Nutritionists, or the American Cancer Society- claim that there’s no proof of its efficacy and describe it as “para-scientific, misleading, and potentially dangerous“.

The benefits of orthomolecular nutrition

On the other hand, for the defenders of this discipline, nutritional supplementation as a therapeutic tool is a reality. In fact, even conventional medicine uses combined treatments.

According to professionals dedicated to orthomolecular medicine, there’s evidence and medical practice that supports positive results in the treatment of schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorders, and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders. What’s more, the use of orthomolecular medicine and nutrition has accompanied conventional treatments with good results.

Orthomolecular nutrition sparks interest

Overall, orthomolecular nutrition seeks to balance the body’s biochemistry to ensure that all the body’s systems function properly. Some medical and food professionals describe it as pseudoscience. However, the truth is that it’s gaining ground as a tool for curing and preventing disease.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • AENTOC (Asociación Española de Nutricionistas y Terapeutas Ortomoleculares Cualificados). Principios de los Nutricionistas Ortomoleculares.
  • Basulto J, et al. Nutrición Ortomolecular”. Postura del GREP‐AEDN (Grupo de Revisión, Estudio y Posicionamiento de la Asociación Española de Dietistas‐Nutricionistas). Febrero 2012.
  • Janson M. Orthomolecular medicine: the therapeutic use of dietary supplements for anti-aging. Clinical interventions in aging. Setiembre 2006. 1(3):261-265.
  • Maheswari S, et al. Zinc adjunct therapy reduces case fatality in severe childhood pneumonia: a randomized double blind placebo-controlled trial. BMC Medicine. Febrero 2012. 10(14).
  • Zell M, Grundmann O. An orthomolecular approach to the prevention and treatment of psychiatric disorders. Advances in mind body medicine. 2012. 26(2):14-28.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.