An Appreciation by Ron Swenson
(OMNS Apr 17, 2020) Fate masquerades as circumstance and doors open. That’s how it seems now as I look back over the years since I worked as a graduate student in biomedical engineering with Dr. Robert Fulton Cathcart III, supporting his development of what became a highly successful new hip prosthesis (femoral endoprosthesis). Over the years, I stayed in touch with Bob as he shifted away from orthopedics to orthomolecular medicine.
After confirming the notion of using large doses of vitamin C by successfully treating his own hay fever, Bob gained the confidence to clinically apply high doses of vitamin C and other nutrients to support his patients’ healing. Thanks to his proximity to Stanford, he became the courageous clinician who validated the controversial theories of Irwin Stone and Linus Pauling, neither of whom had a license to practice medicine.
Although Bob was right in the center of the Silicon Valley culture that intensely supported innovation, he found it deeply challenging to prevail against the mountain of misinformation that persisted within the medical community about the use of vitamin C. For him, this was a reminder of the sad history of painful deaths of countless sailors for hundreds of years from the time of Columbus, once voyages extended beyond 30 days at sea without fresh food.
After a year of teaching engineering at San Jose State University (1965-1968), I considered going back to school for my Master’s degree and presumably a Ph.D. Paul Williams, a good friend and colleague whose office was down the hall, encouraged me to seek out a professor who would be engaged and inspiring, rather than to base my grad school curriculum on some particular major field. Knowing my interests, Paul suggested that I meet Professor Peter Bulkeley, Chair of the Design Division of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford. I made the appointment and, after brief introductions, I told him straight away that I wanted to work on something of socially redeeming value and not get swept up in the fads of aerospace or defense. He immediately reached up to a shelf behind his desk and handed me a human thigh bone. He explained that a doctor over at the Med School had sought him out to recruit a grad student who would work with him on developing a novel hip prosthesis. That sounded just right to me, and I soon found myself spending many days and late nights with Dr. Cathcart in the basement of the Stanford Hospital, using human femurs to make epoxy models and then measure them to establish the true shape of the femoral head.
The objective was to design a replacement ball, not based on the mechanical ease of fabricating a sphere, which typically caused the existing products to wear through the hip socket (the acetabulum) in a few short years, but rather to make one close enough to the natural semi-elliptical shape to enable the natural pumping and lubricating action to mimic the normal joint movement and prevent the ball from wearing through the acetabulum. After kicking around a few ideas with Drs. Bulkeley and Cathcart, I developed a photographic silhouette and computer graphic scheme that was needlessly complex. Then one day I came into our room in the basement and found Bob measuring an epoxy model with little sheet metal radius gauges. (Moral of the story: KISS – keep it simple, stupid!)
The next summer I went with my Grandfather to visit relatives in Sweden for the first time. Along the way I learned of an upcoming conference on biomedical engineering that was to be held a month later in Stockholm. After I dropped off my grandfather to fly back home to California, I traveled on for a few weeks through Germany, Switzerland and France, and made my way back to Stockholm for the conference. There I found myself witnessing history – the first ever academic presentation of a knee replacement that was done for a nun in England. The conference opened my eyes to the significance of Dr. Cathcart’s work. His contemporaries were doing partial hip replacements with spherical balls that wore out hip sockets, often leading to full hip replacements which at the time required four-hour surgeries with significant blood loss, nearly impossible for typically elderly patients.
As our initial work was completed, Bob filed a patent application and then left the University to go into private practice. Even though in the meantime I had landed a full NIH (National Institute of Health) biomedical engineering fellowship to get a PhD, I also decided to leave academia to return to my roots in the construction industry. Bob went on to license his patent to DePuy Products https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DePuy. It was the third such ever patented in the USA; the Cathcart elliptical orthocentric endoprosthesis became DePuy’s most successful product at the time, with over 100,000 units eventually produced. Today, with surgical advances, total hip replacements are routinely accomplished in much shorter surgeries with minimal blood loss, so partial hip replacements are less common.
For a few years, I lost touch with Bob. However, around 1975, after finishing a particularly challenging project, I went up to my family’s vacation condo at Incline Village for a little R&R. There by chance I bumped into Bob’s wife Patty at the grocery store, and soon found myself getting the cook’s tour with Bob at their spectacular home on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, using the latest insulated wall panels (which I had coincidentally also used on construction projects) and largely financed by his royalties from DePuy. Soon we were right back where we had been some years earlier, immersed in long discussions on many subjects, now especially focused on his new discoveries in Orthomolecular Medicine.
From the time we reconnected at Incline Village, we stayed in touch through the years. Bob introduced me to Irwin Stone, the pioneer who developed and patented the synthesis and commercialization of vitamin C shortly after Szent-Györgyi’s discoveries. I heard first hand of his experiences and enjoyed his hospitality. I was invited one time to meet Archie Kalokerinos who was visiting the Linus Pauling Institute and lecturing after having written Every Second Child. Bob introduced me to a dentist who thankfully removed the mercury/silver amalgam fillings in my teeth and was the most proficient and conscientious dentist I have known. He encouraged me to check out the Gerson therapy, which led to multiple adventures in Mexico investigating their clinics.
Bob moved back to the Bay Area in the 1980s so in due course he became my personal physician. One of the first things he did was to write me a prescription to administer 10 grams of intravenous sodium ascorbate, on the off-chance that I might be in an emergency room or in another country, stranded without a doctor having the good sense to use vitamin C to boost my immune system under stress. I carried that in my wallet for years, long after his passing.
Over many years of treating thousands of patients, Bob had seen that the oral dose of vitamin C that a person could tolerate would vary from day to day and week to week. A dose too large would cause diarrhea, because the portion of vitamin C that was not absorbed would attract water into the gut. He found that the sicker a person was, the higher the dose of vitamin C they could tolerate before they got diarrhea. The greatest reduction in symptoms occurred just below the dose of vitamin C that caused diarrhea. Due to many questions his patients and colleagues had about this effect, Bob coined the term “bowel tolerance” for the varying dose of vitamin C that could be tolerated. He found that the amounts taken over a 24-hour day (in divided doses) could vary from 4 to 100 grams or more for acute illness. He published several influential papers about the bowel tolerance in 1981, and the term has become widely used because of its descriptive clarity!
When family members and friends told me of their health concerns or maladies, I introduced them to Bob. With his wisdom and experience in orthomolecular medicine he was able to help many with mega doses of vitamin C and other essential nutrients. My mother in particular was very fond of him, and she followed his guidance through the years, admonishing others to do the same. One of my friends is forever grateful for Bob’s help with their autoimmune condition. Others had difficult experiences with him; he gave tough assignments to tackle their health issues and not everyone was willing to make the necessary changes.
I live on the coast, about 40 miles from where Bob lived and worked, so we didn’t socialize with our families very often. One time though I did talk him into coming over to Santa Cruz for dinner. As my wife and I were preparing dinner, of course the conversation centered around nutrition. We told Bob that we were in luck, because right after dinner, we could go out to hear a famous breatharian who happened to be in town. (Bob was skeptical – not that we weren’t. He just didn’t think the guy’s story would be very entertaining.) Well, a day or two later, we read in the paper that the breatharian’s wife had just outed him. Not only did he eat solids, but he turned out to be a junk food junkie! So much for the minimalist-nutritionist.
The Unheralded Pioneer
Though his prosthesis readily gained credibility and success, both in the medical community and in the commercial marketplace, Bob encountered incredible skepticism and pushback from his peers for his profound insight into vitamin C’s fundamental role in human health beyond simply preventing scurvy. He faced much of the same resistance and confusion that was rampant from the time of Columbus well into the 20th century before scientists, navigators, ships’ physicians, adventurers, merchants, and military and political leaders finally understood and dealt with acute scurvy by supplying vitamin C. (As late as 1912, Robert Scott and his team of British colleagues died of scurvy on their expedition to the South Pole.)
That tale brings us to the present baffling moment in the 21st century, in which governments and the medical establishment have been tragically resisting the well-established and uncontroversial rationale of providing vitamin C to support the immune system, in the face of a viral pandemic that is needlessly taking thousands of lives.
Nonetheless, for those of us who witnessed Bob Cathcart’s success in spite of ignorant discrimination and who suffered alongside him, it is gratifying to see that the science and techniques spawned by his genius have been kept alive in a dedicated group of orthomolecular researchers and physicians. It is inspiring to imagine that we who follow in Bob’s footsteps can even now be reinvigorated by embracing his dedication and courage. Time is of the essence, as multitudes are suffering at this very moment. This personal story is offered to inspire readers to reinvigorate their resolve to bring vitamin C, the healing factor, into the light.
Suggested reading and viewing
Cathcart RF (1981) The Method of Determining Proper Doses of Vitamin C for the Treatment of Disease by Titrating to Bowel Tolerance. J Orthomol Psychiat, 10:125-132. http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/1981/pdf/1981-v10n02-p125.pdf
This is the landmark article, the definitive text, which set the record straight on the healing impact of vitamin C on viral diseases. The message is simple: given the widely varying potency of viral diseases, it is necessary to adjust doses of ascorbate accordingly. Cathcart describes how ascorbic acid supports the healing processes for non-viral diseases as well. (See also: Vitamin C, Titrating to Bowel Tolerance, Anascorbemia, and Acute Induced Scurvy. http://www.doctoryourself.com/titration.html )
Cathcart RF. Healing with natural substances. https://omarchives.org/video-cathcart.
These video presentations and interviews of Dr. Cathcart provide a wealth of information about the rationale and effectiveness of natural edible substances in the healing process. Against the paradigm of health professionals focused on identifying and then targeting narrowly defined symptoms with powerful silver bullets, Cathcart conveys how a few key immune system building blocks resolve so many maladies.
Stone I (1972) The Healing Factor: Vitamin C Against Disease. Grosset and Dunlap, New York. ISBN-13: 9780448116938.
Authors on vitamin C often refer to this seminal book written in simple lay terms by the many who inspired Linus Pauling and many others. The original is much more interesting than footnotes in other books and articles. https://vitamincfoundation.org/stone/ or https://archive.org/stream/TheHealingFactorVitaminCAgainstDiStoneIrwin/The%20healing%20factor_%20_vitamin%20C_%20against%20di%20-%20Stone%2C%20Irwin_djvu.txt
Baron JH (2009) Sailors’ scurvy before and after James Lind – a reassessment. Nutrition Reviews 67:315-332, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19519673. Thoroughly researched, this short article offers an intimate view into the mishaps, ignorance and cowardice which led to centuries of abuse and tragedy. One of the lessons of history is that lessons can be lost from the collective memory of entire societies, and fundamental truths must be reestablished, often at great cost.
Dr. Cathcart was inducted into the Orthomolecular Medicine Hall of fame in 2008. http://www.orthomolecular.org/hof/2008/cathcart.html
That same year, Wikipedia summarily deleted his biography page. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Robert_Cathcart&oldid=361560177 . Scroll down at http://orthomolecular.org/resources/omns/v06n18.shtml for additional reporting on this.
To learn still more about Dr. Robert F. Cathcart III, MD: http://www.doctoryourself.com/biblio_cathcart.html
(Ron Swenson has been working for decades to reduce humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels. He has built numerous commercial solar systems and is developing a solar ecovillage in California and solar homes in Montana. He cofounded Kiteship, which since 2004 has held the Guinness world record for the largest traction kite to pull a vessel. He continues to heed the profound guidance of Dr. Robert Cathcart. Ron’s website is http://www.swenson.com/ron )