Interview with STEVE HICKEY, PhD

Dr. Steve Hickey




Andrew W. Saul Interviews Vitamin C Expert



No medical professional's bias or belief system can long withstand Steve Hickey and Hilary Roberts' absolutely first-rate presentation of the safety and effectiveness of megadoses of vitamin C. There are only two possible reader responses to their book: persuasion or dismissal. Ascorbate: The Science of Vitamin C is a thorough review (575 references) of what, at least until now, has appeared to be a controversial topic. Along with Dr. Tom Levy's book, Vitamin C, Infectious Diseases, and Toxins: Curing the Incurable (reviewed at ), it ranks among the absolute best. My full-length review of Ascorbate: The Science of Vitamin C is posted at


I wish I'd had a book of this caliber back in the 1970's when my kids were infants, and here wasn't a doctor in sight that would give our vegetarian and megavitamin C lifestyle the time of day. The outlaws, er, ah, in-laws were against it, too. Even so, I raised my kids all the way into college without a single dose of any antiviral, antihistamine, or antibiotic. To put it bluntly: the stuff really works. And here’s why.


DOCTOR YOURSELF NEWS: So how did it all start?


STEVE HICKEY, PhD: We (co-author Hilary Roberts and I) had been following the developments in vitamin C and antioxidants with some concern. Since Linus Pauling's death, there seemed to be a great deal of misinformation coming into the area. The NIH had performed some questionable experiments and were making the apparently ridiculous statement that blood plasma and tissues became saturated with low doses of vitamin C. There was no mainstream research on high doses and the establishment was making wild extrapolations from their low dose data. We could not see how a clinical trial with 200 mg of vitamin C, for example, could be used to suggest that higher doses were not effective.


The work of physicians like Bob Cathcart, Archie Kalokerinos and Abram Hoffer was intriguing. The reported effects, especially of intravenous vitamin C, were astounding. It was difficult to find any reason to explain the lack of scientific follow-up. By analogy, it was as if many independent physicians were each independently discovering antibiotics and no-one was interested. We had friends and relatives that were sick or dying from diseases that high dose vitamin C was claimed to cure. Eventually we felt we had no choice but to write the book.


DY NEWS: What are your past and current occupations or university appointments?


HICKEY: I have a PhD in Medical Biophysics from the University of Manchester. I spent about ten years in research at the Manchester Medical School and associated hospitals. Initially, I had trained as a biologist specializing in pharmacology. Later I switched to biomechanics and medical physics. My PhD was on the function of the spine, specifically the aging, development and mechanical function of the annulus fibrosus of the intervertebral disk. I was awarded the Volvo Award for back pain research for the first year of my PhD (jointly with Dr David Hukins) and later won the Annual Award and Medal of the Back Pain Society for MR imaging of the spine. Following my work on the spine, I worked with Professor John Brocklehurst on the biomechanics of the urethra and developed a range of conformable catheters. Then I worked on methods for ultra high resolution CT scanning and led the physics group of the first clinical MR scanner in Europe. Currently, I am Head of Technology for a company in Manchester Science Park and a member of the Biology Department of Manchester Metropolitan University.


Hilary Roberts' first degree was in Physiology and Psychology, she has a Masters in Computer Science and her PhD was on the effects of early life malnutrition, at the Department of Child Health in the University of Manchester. She spent ten years in research and teaching at the university. Currently, she is a freelance

researcher and consultant. She is also working on a second nutrition book.


DY NEWS: How did you happen to meet each other?


HICKEY: We met at Manchester Medical School, during our PhD studies.


DY NEWS: Advocating megadoses of vitamin C as actual cure for serious disease has been a fount of frustration for many an academic (Linus Pauling coming instantly to mind), practicing physician or grant-seeking research scientist. What heat have you personally been taking from your book?


HICKEY: None whatsoever - so far. We have been actively trying to provoke a response from the NIH, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and associated scientists. I suppose they are trying to ignore us, but they can't hide forever. I think it is clear that the current ideas of plasma saturation are simply wrong and cannot be defended.


One or two scientists have tried to support the use of white blood cells to estimate body requirements. This is more central to the IOM's justification of the RDA than the plasma studies, but equally silly. Dr Mark Levine told us he used white blood cells because they were easy to sample, not because they were representative of normal body cells. The RDA committee, using Levine's papers as their basis, claimed that these cells were the best model. In giving their reasons, the IOM used a single reference to justify the choice of cell, but that paper did not support the idea that white blood cells are similar to other body tissues. White blood cells have special needs for vitamin C. They absorb it actively and have levels from 25-60 times the surrounding plasma. Biologically, it is difficult to think of cells with more specialized requirements and uptake mechanisms for ascorbate.


Many of the people whose work we have respected for years have welcomed the book, which is encouraging. Those on the opposite side have tended to ignore it, which is disappointing, but unsurprising. We have taken time and effort to seek out and email the establishment scientists that support the low-dose ideas, but none have chosen to defend these ideas.


DY NEWS: Your book carefully examines the Moertel-Pauling vitamin C/cancer controversy. I understand Moertel died the same year Pauling did, but was nearly thirty years younger. Does that hit a nerve of the ascorbate researcher?


HICKEY: We are obviously delighted that Pauling lived such a long life and was productive until his death, aged 93. Everyone benefited from his work. Charles Moertel died in his sixties and they both died of cancer. Ironically, recent results suggest that if Dr. Moertel had performed his vitamin C and cancer experiments with more of an open mind, the results might have saved his life.


DY NEWS: In spite of so much modern research confirming that he was right, Pauling is still vilified by some. Why do you think this is? What is it about this little molecule, C6H8O6, that so ticks off the medical professions?


HICKEY: Pauling was one of the greatest scientists who have ever lived. Anyone has the right to criticize his science if it is incorrect. However, the criticism directed at him in connection with vitamin C has often been personal and this is not acceptable. Pauling's achievements are greater than are those of his detractors: it sounds like sour grapes to attack him on a personal level.


The medical establishment's response to vitamin C seems bizarre. They have denigrated its use in high doses but have not responded to reports of efficacy by independent physicians. The reasons for this are not scientific. Pharmaceutical companies have a great financial interest in ensuring that high dose vitamin C continues to be seen as ineffective. The existence of the tobacco companies demonstrates that some companies value profits more highly than health. If the claimed benefits of high-dose vitamin C can be demonstrated, its use would greatly reduce the profitability of the medical industries. Furthermore, if vitamin C were shown to have these properties, we might expect people to start asking whether other antioxidant supplements could have similar effects.


The medical establishment gives the appearance of avoiding high-dose vitamin C experimentation. They seem to confuse nutritional doses, between 200 mg to 10 grams, with necessarily much higher pharmacological doses. For example, they might perform a clinical trial using a dose of less than 400 mg for heart disease and, finding no response, suggest that vitamin C is useless. A nutritional dose of 400 mg of vitamin C is not likely to reverse heart disease, but this experiment has no bearing on whether or not higher doses might be more effective.


Pharmacological doses start at a minimum of 10 grams for treating disease. Dr Robert Cathcart ( and others have given daily doses of several hundred grams for serious illnesses. Cathcart classifies the severity of viral disease in relation to the vitamin C bowel tolerance level, so he might describe a "40-gram cold" or a more severe "120-gram cold." The medical establishment has been negligent in failing to investigate such doses.


DY NEWS: I noticed that your book properly zeroes in on intravenous administration of vitamin C. Many of my readers are vexed that their local hospitals and doctors will not provide this. Your comments?


HICKEY: It is possible that many physicians are worried about litigation when giving therapies that are not in the accepted mainstream. Dr Tom Levy trained in law as well as medicine and his book, "Vitamin C, Infectious Diseases and Toxins," ( ) was written in part to help with this situation. Patients might consider getting a copy of his book for their physician. (Editor's note: The book is reviewed at  and a sample chapter is posted at )


DY NEWS: Ascorbate: The Science of Vitamin C, even with its 575 references, might be described as just slightly controversial. What parts of your book are your critics attacking you over, specifically?


HICKEY: This is quite strange. One critic suggested that we were too harsh in describing cold fusion as an example of pseudoscience. A professor did not like one of the chemical diagrams. That is it, as far as criticism goes. The medical establishment have been unable or unwilling to respond to the important points made in the book. 


DY NEWS: As you cite them, can you please tell us about your experiences, discussions or contacts with Dr. Bob Cathcart, Dr. Abram Hoffer, and Dr. Tom Levy?


HICKEY: They were an inspiration. Robert Cathcart read the whole book in early draft form and provided us with feedback and helpful suggestions. Abram Hoffer read sections of the manuscript and was most encouraging, as was Tom Levy, who told us about his plans for future research. The book owes a great debt to the work of Cathcart, Hoffer, Levy and other physicians, who have risked their reputations and careers in the hope of getting orthomolecular therapy considered.


DY NEWS: To that, I can only say, Hear, hear! How much attention is Ascorbate: The Science of Vitamin C receiving in your country, a nation under the imminent threat of CODEX and the EU supplements directive?


HICKEY: I think the Codex and EU legislation has European nutrition professionals and supplement takers in a panic. Stopping the Codex will be difficult and the current emphasis is on a legal challenge in the European Court of Human Rights. I will be assisting Patrick Holford in a presentation to the UK House of Commons in October.


DY NEWS: How are what I understand to be your strong efforts to increase the US RDA and other government nutrient intake standards progressing?


HICKEY: I must mention the sterling work that Bill Sardi, Medical Journalist, has been undertaking in this area. If we are successful in getting the RDA increased, it will certainly owe a lot to his persistent efforts. I have received no credible scientific response to the challenge, from either the NIH or the IOM. There appears to be no defense to the plasma "saturation" claims. However, the IOM have just claimed that they actually based the RDA on levels in white blood cells, rather than plasma saturation. This was probably their best attempt at a reply. As we pointed out in "Ascorbate," the evidence for the use of white blood cells is at least as silly as that for the use of plasma levels.  White blood cells are not a suitable model for the whole body: they are unusual and specialized in their use of ascorbate.


DY NEWS: To date, where has you book been reviewed?


HICKEY: I don't have a full list, but there are readers' reviews on, and the Vitamin C Foundation website  . Dr Richard Passwater reviewed the book for WholeFoods Magazine (Sept. 2004). The latest reviewer is Dr Sandra Goodman, author of "Vitamin C the Master Nutrient," for Positive Health magazine. The reviews we have seen have been positive. We had expected a lot of negative feedback and disinformation from the establishment but, so far, this has not materialized.


DY NEWS: How do both of you get along with your personal physicians?


HICKEY: Very well; our physicians are helpful and open. They have some coverage of alternative medicine and include acupuncture as a therapy. Neither of us has needed to visit since the Ascorbate book was published.


DY NEWS: Because of how much vitamin C you take, perhaps? How much vitamin C do you take daily? How about your families; children?


HICKEY: It varies - several grams a day at least, more if we feel under the weather. We take it at intervals throughout the day. My (grown-up) children take similar amounts. Hilary's father, a skeptical, retired surgeon, has also been on vitamin C for about 20 years, since having a heart bypass operation. I think he started it as a placebo, as supplementing was easier than dealing with the repeated suggestions that he needed it! However, from a recent scan, his arteries are clear and, now he has read the book, he is starting to think there might be something in it after all.


For further reading:

Hickey S and Roberts H. Ascorbate: The science of vitamin C. 2004. ISBN 1-4116-0724-4. Morrisville, NC:  


 [You might also enjoy reading DOCTOR YOURSELF ( and FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! (]

Interview and comments copyright 2007 and prior years by Andrew W. Saul.


Andrew W. Saul


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