Origin Of Vitamin C Treatment For Polio - Klenner


The Origin of the 42-Year Stonewall of Vitamin C

Robert Landwehr 1

1. 1250 Grizzly Peak, Berkeley, CA 94708.

In the late spring of 1949 the United States was in the grip of
its worst poliomyelitis epidemic ever. On June 10 a paper on ways
to save the lives of bulbar polio victims was read at the Annual
Session of the American Medical Association (subsequently printed
in its journal, JAMA, September 3, 1949, pages 1-8, volume 141,
no. 1). Following the talk members of the audience were invited
to comment. The first speaker, a leading authority from Pasadena,
focused on details of tracheotomy techniques caused when paralyzed
breathing, swallowing and coughing muscles of victims threatened
their lives. Why the next person was recognized is puzzling. The only
national recognition he had received -- and it was obviously very
limited -- was that his picture appeared in Ebony in 1947 for having
delivered of a deaf-mute black woman the first known surviving,
identical quadruplets in the country. Here is the abstract of his
remarks as recorded in JAMA:

"Dr. F. R. Klenner, Reidsville, N.C.: It might be interesting to
learn how poliomyelitis was treated in Reidsville, N.C., during the
1948 epidemic. In the past seven years, virus infections have been
treated and cured in a period of seventy-two hours by the employment
of massive frequent injections of ascorbic acid, or vitamin C. I
believe that if vitamin C in these massive doses -- 6,000 to 20,000
mg in a twenty-four hour period -- is given to these patients with
poliomyelitis none will be paralyzed and there will be no further
maiming or epidemics of poliomyelitis."

The discussion period was, of course, to be devoted to hearing
relevant comments of the world's leading authorities on the treatment
of bulbar polio symptoms, not to airing another claim of a cure. One
can imagine the silence that must have greeted this sweeping,
out-of-place declaration by a small-town general practitioner. Four
other speakers, three more bulbar experts and an anesthesiologist,
followed. None referred to Dr. Klenner's remarks.

The empirical, clinical basis for Klenner's statement is found in
his paper "The Treatment of Poliomyelitis and Other Virus Diseases
with Vitamin C", published in the July 1949 issue of the Journal
of Southern Medicine and Surgery. On pages 211-212 he writes:

"In the poliomyelitis epidemic in North Carolina in 1948, 60 cases
of this disease came under our care. These patients presented all
or almost all of these signs and symptoms: Fever of 101 to 104.6,
headache, pain at the back of the eyes, conjunctivitis, scarlet
throat; pain between the shoulders, the back of the neck, one or more
extremity, the lumbar back; nausea, vomiting and constipation. In 15
of these cases the diagnosis was confirmed by lumbar puncture; the
cell count ranging from 33 to 125. Eight had been in contact with a
proven case; two of this group received spinal taps. Examination of
the spinal fluid was not carried out in others for the reasons: (1)
Flexner and Amoss had warned that `simple lumbar puncture attended
with even very slight hemorrhage opens the way for the passage of
the virus from the blood into the central nervous system and thus
promotes infection.' (2) A patient presenting all or almost all of
the above signs and symptoms during an epidemic of poliomyelitis must
be considered infected with this virus. (3) Routine lumbar puncture
would have made it obligatory to report each case as diagnosed to
the health authorities. This would have deprived myself of valuable
clinical material and the patients of most valuable therapy, since
they would have been removed to a receiving center in a nearby town.

"The treatment employed was vitamin C in massive doses. It was given
like any other antibiotic every two to four hours. The initial dose
was 1,000 to 2,000 mg, depending on age. Children up to four years
received the injections intramuscularly. Since laboratory facilities
for whole blood and urine determinations of the concentration of
vitamin C were not available, the temperature curve was adopted
as the guide for additional medication. The rectal temperature was
recorded every two hours. No temperature response after the second
hour was taken to indicate the second 1,000 or 2,000 mg. If there was
a drop in fever after two hours, two more hours was allowed before
the second dose. This schedule was followed for 24 hours. After this
time the fever was consistently down, so the drug was given 1,000
to 2,000 mg every six hours for the next 48 hours. All patients
were clinically well after 72 hours. After three patients had a
relapse the drug was continued for at least 48 hours longer --
1,000 to 2,000 mg every eight to 12 hours. Where spinal taps were
performed, it was the rule to find a reversion of the fluid to
normal after the second thy of treatment.

"For patients treated in the home the dose schedule was 2,000 mg
by needle every six hours, supplemented by 1,000 to 2,000 mg every
two hours by mouth. The tablet was crushed and dissolved in fruit
juice. All of the natural "C" in fruit juice is taken up by the
body; this made us expect catalytic action from this medium. Rutin,
20 mg, was used with vitamin C by mouth in a few cases, instead of
the fruit juice. Hawley and others have shown that vitamin C taken
by mouth will show its peak of excretion in the urine in from four
to six hours. Intravenous administration produces this peak in from
one to three hours. By this route, however, the concentration in the
blood is raised so suddenly that a transitory overflow into the urine
results before the tissues are saturated. Some authorities suggest
that the subcutaneous method is the most conservative in terms of
vitamin C loss, but this factor is overwhelmingly neutralized by
the factor of pain inflicted.

"Two patients in this series of 60 regurgitated fluid through the
nose. This was interpreted as representing the dangerous bulbar
type. For a patient in this category postural drainage, oxygen
administration, in some cases tracheotomy, needs to be instituted,
until the vitamin C has had sufficient time to work -- in our
experience 36 hours. Failure to recognize this factor might sacrifice
the chance of recovery. With these precautions taken, every patient
of the series recovered uneventfully within three to five days."

This paper is quoted at length to allow readers to judge for
themselves whether or not Dr. Klenner made up all these details. In
subsequent publications he gave details about curing life-threatening
polio cases, and described his general procedures in his paper "The
Vitamin and Massage Treatment for Acute Poliomyelitis", appearing
in the Journal of Southern Medicine and Surgery in August, 1952.

One of the reasons why Klenner's declaration at the AMA annual
session was undoubtedly met with silence was that since 1939 polio
experts were quite certain that vitamin C was not effective against
polio. There seemed little doubt that Dr. Albert B. Sabin, a highly
respected figure in medical research even before he developed his
successful vaccines, had demonstrated that vitamin C had no value
in combatting polio viruses. In 1939 he published a paper showing
that vitamin C had no effect in preventing paralysis in rhesus
monkeys experimentally infected with a strain of polio virus. He
had tried to corroborate the work of Dr. Claus W. Jungeblut, another
highly respected medical researcher, who had published in 1935 and
1937 papers indicating that vitamin C might be of benefit. Sabin
could not reproduce Jungeblut's results even though he consulted
Jungeblut during the course of the experiments. It seemed to be a
fair trial, and Sabin's negative results virtually ended experiments
with vitamin C and polio.

How then could a Dr. Fred R. Klenner, a virtually unknown general
practitioner specializing in diseases of the chest, from a town no
one ever heard of, with no national credentials, no research grants
and no experimental laboratory, have the nerve to make his sweeping
claim in front of that prestigious body of polio authorities?

Around 1942 Klenner's wife suffered bleeding gums and her dentist
recommended pulling out all her teeth. Dr. Klenner thought that
solution too Draconian and remembered reading about research using
vitamin C to cure chimpanzees with a similar problem. He gave her
several injections of the vitamin and the bleeding stopped. Soon,
after, this dramatic result encouraged him to try vitamin C
on an obstinate man who was near death from viral pneumonia.
Klenner described this seminal experience in a 1953 paper "The Use
of Vitamin C as an Antibiotic":

"Our interest with vitamin C against the virus organism began ten
years ago in a modest rural home. Here a patient who was receiving
symptomatic treatment for virus pneumonia had suddenly developed
cynosis [sic: cyanosis]. He refused hospitalization for supportive
oxygen therapy. X-Ray had not been considered because of its
dubious value and because the nearest department equipped to give
such treatment was 69 miles distant. Two grams of vitamin C was
given intramuscularly with the hope that the anaerobic condition
existing in the tissues would be relieved by the catalytic action of
vitamin C acting as a gas transport aiding cellular respiration. This
was an old idea; the important factor being that it worked. Within
30 minutes after giving the drug (which was carried in my medical
bag for the treatment of diarrhea in children) the characteristic
breathing and slate-like color had cleared. Returning six hours
later, at eight in the evening, the patient was found sitting
over the edge of his bed enjoying a late dinner. Strangely enough
his fever was three degrees less than it was at 2 p.m. that same
afternoon. This sudden change in the condition of the patient led
us to suspect that vitamin C was playing a role of far greater
significance than that of a simple respiratory catalyst. A second
injection of one gram of vitamin C was administered, by the same
route, on this visit and then subsequently at six hour intervals
for the next three days. This patient was clinically well after 36
hours of chemotherapy. From this casual observation we have been
able to assemble sufficient clinical evidence to prove unequivocally
that vitamin C is the antibiotic of choice in the handling of all
types of virus diseases. Furthermore it is a major adjuvant in
the treatment of all other infectious diseases."

Again this paper is quoted at length to allow readers to judge for
themselves whether or not the author made this up or deluded himself
in some way. From 1943 through 1947 Dr. Klenner reported successful
treatment of 41 more cases of viral pneumonia using massive doses
of vitamin C. From these cases he learned what dosage and route of
administration -- intravenously, intramuscularly, or orally -- was
best for each patient. Dr. Klenner gave these details in a February
1948 paper published in the Journal of Southern Medicine and Surgery
entitled "Virus Pneumonia and Its Treatment with Vitamin C". This
article was the first of Dr. Klenner's twenty-eight (through 1974)
scientific publications.

Klenner realized, of course, that vitamin C's effectiveness with
viral pneumonia opened up the possibility of curing other viral
diseases. "With a great deal of enthusiasm," in Klenner's phrase,
he tried its effectiveness with all of the childhood diseases,
particularly measles. By the spring of 1948, when a measles epidemic
came to Reidsville, Klenner was so confident of vitamin C's efficacy
with these diseases that he devised what would ordinarily be an
outrageous experiment with his two little daughters. He had them play
with children known to be in the contagious phase of measles. When
the usual syndrome of measles had developed and his daughters were
obviously sick, vitamin C was started. Again Klenner's words from
his 1953 paper:

"In this experiment it was found that 1,000 mg every four hours, by
mouth, would modify the attack. Smaller doses allowed the disease to
progress. When 1,000 mg was given every 2 hours all evidence of the
infection cleared in 48 hours. If the drug was then discontinued
for a similar period (48 hours) the above syndrome returned. We
observed this off and on picture for thirty days at which time the
drug (vitamin C) was given 1,000 mg every 2 hours around the clock
for four days. This time the picture cleared and did not return."

With this background of experiences -- with human beings, not
experimental animals -- Klenner gained confidence in and control
over his vitamin C treatment.

One reason he turned his attention early to treating measles was
that he knew that measle [sic: measles] viruses were about as small
as polio viruses and he hoped massive doses of vitamin C would be
effective against the dreaded Crippler. By 1948 he was ready to treat
polio with vitamin C, and in that year North Carolina suffered its
worst epidemic ever -- 2,518 new cases. Dr. Klenner's hopes were
realized when, as has been related above, he cured sixty patients
with massive frequent injections of vitamin C.

With seven years of experience behind him one can understand not
only why Dr. Klenner had the nerve to speak up on June 10, 1949
but why he undoubtedly felt morally obligated to do so.

After 1949 polio epidemics continued to take their terrible
toll. The peak year for The Crippler in the U.S. was 1952 --
57,628 cases. During the 1950s isolated doctors around the world
tried Klenner's cure. Those who used vitamin C at doses below those
recommended by Klenner reported no benefit; those who followed his
dosages reported good results. Dr. H. Bauer of the University of
Switzerland Clinic, Basel in 1952 reported benefits to his polio
patients with 10 to 20 grams of vitamin C per day. Dr. Edward Greer,
using doses in Klenner's recommended range of 50 to 80 grams per day,
recorded in 1955 good clinical results with five serious cases of
polio. Dr. Abram Hoffer recalls that a controlled study, conducted in
Great Britain in the late 50s with 70 young polio victims, confirmed
Klenner's cure. All those given vitamin C recovered completely,
while a significant number of those not given vitamin C suffered
some permanent damage. (This study was not published because of the
success of the polio vaccines.) Dr. Klenner himself reported that
he received scores of letters from doctors in the U.S. and Canada
corroborating his striking results. Some of the letters described
how they cured their own children, others, how the doctors had
cured themselves.

What kind of reception did Dr. Klenner's discoveries receive from
the medical establishment? There are two references to Klenner's
1949 paper in national, mainstream publications. The title of that
paper was included in the October 7, 1949 issue of the Current
List of Medical Literature, published by the U.S. Army Medical
Library. The paper was also included in the second edition of
A Bibliography of Infantile Paralysis --1789-1949, published in
1951 and prepared under the direction of the National Foundation
for Infantile Paralysis. Instead of abstracting the paper in the
usual manner, it printed only Dr. Klenner's last paragraph, which
was not a summary but an obvious rhetorical statement Klenner felt
necessary to counter the skepticism he knew would greet his quick,
inexpensive cures. Other than these two references, mainstream
medical publications made no mention of Klenner and his work. One
of JAMA's regular departments was Current Medical Literature,
in which its editors abstracted papers they considered of special
note. Many polio papers were abstracted in 1949, but not Klenner's.

The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was founded in 1938
by polio's most famous victim, President Franklin Roosevelt, to
raise money through the March of Dimes to combat the disease. Most
polio research was funded by the National Foundation. There is no
mention of Dr. Klenner's work or of vitamin C's possible benefits
to polio victims in any of the Foundation's annual reports. Not one
dime was spent to prove or disprove Klenner's claim. Before 1949
a claim of a cure was promptly looked into and money spent until
it was proved false. But with Klenner's claim nothing happened.

It was certainly not for lack of research funds that nothing
happened. John M. Russell, in the 1960 book The Crisis in American
Medicine, edited by Marion K. Sanders, described the glut and waste
of money for medical research in the l950s. Russell points out
that the public clamor for a cure for polio was so great that in
1954 Congress appropriated $1,000,000 specifically earmarked for
polio research. It turned out that there was so much polio money
floating around that the recipient of this largess, the U.S. Public
Health Service, classified such unlikely diseases as hepatitis as
"poliolike" so that none of this money would have to be returned
to the U.S. taxpayer.

Five International Poliomyelitis Congresses were convened every three
years from 1948 to 1960 to deal with the polio epidemics around
the world. In all of the voluminous reports of these conferences
there is no reference to Klenner or to vitamin C. Only the first
congress dealt briefly with the possible effect of nutrition, and
this was dismissed by the statement of an expert "that no clinical
evidence is known to me which justifies an increase in intake of
vitamins beyond usual recommended allowances".

Thus in 1949 the polio experts at the Annual Session of the AMA knew
of Klenner's claim, as did the many readers of JAMA's lead article
of its September 3 issue, the many researchers who used the National
Foundation's Bibliography, those that kept up with the titles in the
Current List of Medical Literature, and the relatively few readers
of the Journal of Southern Medicine and Surgery. All this exposure
led to no official inquiry or follow-up of Dr. Klenner's work by
U.S. government health authorities or the National Foundation. No one
in authority anywhere stepped forward to insist that it be checked
out. The strategy of medical leaders -- conscious or unconscious,
planned or unplanned was clearly to ignore Dr. Klenner and hope
his claims would be forgotten.

It worked. Klenner's cure never became well known and today has sunk
almost into oblivion. A synopsis of polio infection and research
by Ernest Kovacs entitled "The Biochemistry of Poliomyelitis
Viruses", published in 1964, makes no reference to Klenner. In 1985
Friedrick Koch and Gebhard Kock published The Molecular Biology
of Poliovirus. It contains in its opening chapter a history of
the disease, but it says nothing about Klenner, or even about the
extensive vitamin C research done by Drs. Jungeblut and Sabin with
monkeys in the 50s. It's as though polio-vitamin C research never

To this day it is mainstream medicine's position that there is no
cure for polio. The Encyclopedia American quotes Richard W. Price
of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City: "No
specific treatment is effective once neurological involvement becomes
manifest." A thoroughly exasperated Klenner concluded a February
1959 paper in the Tri-State Medical Journal with these words:

"Should the disease be present in the acute form, ascorbic acid
given in proper amounts around the clock, both by mouth and needle,
will bring about a rapid recovery. We believe that ascorbic acid
must be given by needle in amounts from 250 mg to 400 mg per kg
body weight every 4 to 6 hours for 48 hours and then every 8 to
12 hours. The dose by mouth is the dose that can be tolerated. To
those who say that Polio is without cure, I say that they lie.
Polio in the acute form can be cured in 96 hours or less. I beg of
someone in authority to try it."

Today there are areas of the world where polio vaccine is still not
used and where the incidence of polio is increasing. Polio remains
The Crippler, and the only effort of the World Health Organization
is to increase vaccination. The leading medical authorities --
the editors of the leading journals, the heads of the AMA and the
National Foundation, U.S. Surgeons General and the heads of other
U.S. governmental health agencies -- were, and are, responsible
for stonewalling for 42 years Dr. Klenner's simple, inexpensive
cure for many viral diseases, including the dreaded polio.

1949 -- a year in medicine which will live in infamy.

From Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, Volume 6, Number 2, 1991,
pp. 99-103

[Note: Some minor punctiation irregularities have been noted and/or
corrected. - AscorbateWeb ed.]

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