Chronic Painful Back Problems:
A Survey of Nutritional Options


Chronic Back Problems





“I was disabled to the point of being unable to put on my own socks and underwear. My 4- and 8-year-old sons had to help me get dressed every day.”

(For the rest of this case story, please scroll down nearly to the bottom of this page.)



A lack of vitamin C is specifically involved in the cause and progression of chronic back problems such as sciatica and spinal stenosis. The premise is basic: long-term inadequacy of vitamin C causes weak spinal disks.


Without enough vitamin C, the body is unable to make collagen, the protein glue that holds cells together. When the cells of a cartilaginous intervertebral disk are not holding together, the disk will degenerate, rupture, herniate, or “slip.” There is a lot of body weight on the bones of your lower back. When you flex and move, and the disks are weak or worn down, the bones can compress nerves emerging from the sides. If only one or two disks are involved, it may result in the characteristic back and leg pain called sciatica.



It is worse if multiple vertebrae are involved. Without healthy disks to prevent it, the center spinal channel can gradually stenose, or narrow. This channel is very important: it is the hollow through which your nerve superhighway, the spinal cord, runs. Squeezing or kinking the spinal cord means pain and problems. Try watering your garden when a cow is standing with its hoof on your garden hose.


While spinal stenosis is sometimes congenital or caused by a tumor, by far the most common form is acquired stenosis. The usual way one “acquires” it is through injury, or osteoarthritis, or both.



Inadequate vitamin C weakens ligaments and connective tissue, making injury easier, inflammation likely, and healing much more difficult.



Inadequate vitamin C also causes the cushioning cartilage in your joints to deteriorate, roughen, and wear ever thinner. As the cartilage degenerates, bone scrapes on bare bone with each movement. That is osteoarthritis.



In the absence of cartilage padding, bone may begin to grow (spur) in the joints of the spine. This is probably the body’s attempt to brace up and splint the vertebrae and limit the movement that is causing pain. Unfortunately, bone spurring can narrow the spinal canal and painfully squeeze the spinal cord in the center. If bone spurs form in the little joints (facets) of the sides of the vertebrae, the nerve roots at the sides get pinched.



Without enough vitamin C to maintain their strength, ligaments can degenerate, thicken, and lose their elasticity. This too may narrow the spinal canal. If disks and ligaments are especially weak, lower-back (lumbar) vertebrae can slide over each other and squish nerves.


All of the above conditions have a common causal factor: inadequate vitamin C. The good news is that they can all be significantly helped by administering large quantities of the nutrient.



Doctors have seen many research studies on drug therapy, but very few on megavitamin therapy. This does not mean that vitamin therapy will not help; it means that vitamin therapy has not been applied.


Well, not quite. One of the great proponents of massive dose vitamin C therapy was Dr. Robert F. Cathcart III, an orthopedic surgeon. One might want to think on that for a long moment. Cathcart, the inventor of a widely used hip replacement prosthetic, advocated doses of vitamin C, often in excess of 100,000 mg per day, to reduce severe inflammation. In decades of practice, he safely and effectively administered such treatment to tens of thousands of patients. Many had arthritis, back pain, or injury; some had ankylosing spondylitis.


Read, and have your doctors read, his papers on high-doses vitamin C treatment posted at

Full listing of Cathcart’s published articles:


In scanning Cathcart’s work, one notices that none of his papers are expressly devoted to “treatment of chronic back problems with vitamin C.” Patients and doctors may therefore be tempted to walk away from this line of inquiry. Yet vitamin C is an important and overlooked key to understanding sciatica and spinal stenosis, and doing something non-surgical about it.


One question, of course, is whether vitamin C can actually rebuild cartilage. The answer is this: cartilage cannot be made without it. The odds greatly favor taking Dr Cathcart's advice over the "just eat a balanced diet for your vitamin C" line that you so often hear.


There is more good news about vitamin C:



Very high doses of vitamin C provide prompt and profound pain relief. Low doses will not work. 


One of the biggest surprises in analgesia occurred during the 1970's in Scotland at the Vale of Leven Hospital. There, Ewan Cameron, M.D. was giving ten grams (10,000 milligrams) of vitamin C intravenously each day to terminally ill patients. In Great Britain at the time, it was acceptable to provide terminal patients with any and all pain relief available, including addictive narcotics such as heroin. 


“Cameron and Baird reported (in 1973) that the first five ascorbate-treated patients who had been receiving large doses of morphine or heroin to control pain were taken off these drugs a few days after the treatment with vitamin C was begun, because the vitamin C seemed to diminish the pain to such an extent that the drug was not needed. Moreover, none of these patients asked that the morphine or heroin be given to them- they seemed not to experience any serious withdrawal signs or symptoms.” (Cameron and Pauling, Cancer and Vitamin C (1981; revised 1993): page xii) 
Any vitamin that approaches the pain relieving power of opiates must be considered some kind of analgesic indeed. Although quite a lot of vitamin C is needed for results, it is a remarkably safe and rather simple therapy.



Smokers are in a constant state of vitamin C deficiency. Do not let anyone tell you differently.


William J. McCormick, M.D., ( , ,

 and found that just three cigarettes a day robs your body of the RDA of vitamin C. Therefore, even smokers without any obvious illness symptoms require daily vitamin C supplementation. Effectively treating illness requires far more.


It is not difficult to see why smokers are much more likely to have serious disk and back problems. What really is difficult to understand is


1) how very few physicians order their back-surgery candidates to stop smoking

2) how very few physicians order their smoking patients to take vitamin C supplements

3) how almost no physician offers high-dose vitamin C therapy as a treatment option


More patients would stop cigarettes, and start vitamin C, if they knew why they absolutely had to.



For results, vitamin C needs to be taken to bowel tolerance. That means exactly what you think it means.


The dose varies widely from person to person, but the effective amount is in the range of tens of thousands of milligrams per day, taken in frequent divided doses. and


Serious cases may require vitamin C initially be given intravenously. High daily oral amounts, divided into every-half-hour doses all day every day, may substitute if IV C is not available. It can almost always be arranged if you really want it:  


More hints:


In massive doses, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) strengthens cartilage, reduces inflammation and relieves pain. Your doctor may not believe this, but it unless you consult a shaman, your health care should not be a matter of belief.



Many people wonder why the medical professions have not embraced vitamin C therapy with open and grateful arms. Probably the main roadblock to widespread examination and utilization of this all-too-simple technology is the equally widespread idea that there MUST be unknown dangers to tens of thousands of milligrams of ascorbic acid. Yet, since the time megascorbate therapy was introduced in the late 1940's by board-certified chest specialist Fred R. Klenner, M.D. , there has been a surprisingly safe and effective track record of physician reports for one to follow.


When an experienced orthopedic surgeon such as Dr. Cathcart chose to give patients huge amounts of vitamin C, it is time to ask why your physicians have not. There are many possible excuses, none of which should be accepted without examining the evidence.


A search of the medical literature shows that vitamin C does not cause kidney stones. It is safe even at very high doses.


Other mistakenly-believed "side effects" of vitamin C have been found to be completely mythical. According to a NIH report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (April 21, 1999), NONE of the following problems are caused by taking "too much vitamin C":


Allegations of Hypoglycemia

Allegations of Rebound scurvy

Allegations of Infertility

Allegations of Destruction of vitamin B-12


This, however, is verifiably true: national USA poison control center statistics show that there is not even one death per year from vitamins.


On the other hand, pharmaceutical drugs, properly prescribed and taken as directed, kill well over 100,000 Americans annually.


Hundreds of thousands of Americans suffer from lower back (lumbar) spinal stenosis, which is now the most common indication for surgery for those over 60. Vitamin therapy is safer than drug or surgical treatment. There is very little to lose, and very much to gain, by trying high-dose vitamin C therapy in advance of, or along with, conventional treatment.



Dr. Cathcart and other orthomolecular (nutritional) physicians usually give patients additional nutrients along with megadose vitamin C therapy.


Vitamin B12

B12 may help with injury and with spinal stenosis, although the dose probably needs to be much higher than 0.5 mg given orally three times daily in this study:


Waikakul W, Waikakul S. Methylcobalamin as an adjuvant medication in conservative treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis. J Med Assoc Thai. 2000 Aug;83(8):825-31. “(N)eurogenic claudication distance which was better in the M (vitamin)-group.”


See also: Petchkrua W et al. Prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency in spinal cord injury. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2003 Nov;84(11):1675-9.  And: Vitamin B12 deficiency in spinal cord injury: a retrospective study. [J Spinal Cord Med. 2003] PMID:12828286


Chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate

Healthy cartilage contains a large amount of chondroitin sulfate, which helps strengthen it. Strong cartilage resists compression; weak cartilage means osteoarthritic changes. 1,200 mg/day is a common therapeutic dose.  


Glucosamine sulfate also helps your body rebuild cartilage. And, it relieves pain about as well as ibuprofen does. 1500 mg/day is a common therapeutic dose.


Ruane R, Griffiths P. Glucosamine therapy compared to ibuprofen for joint pain.
Br J Community Nurs. 2002 Mar;7(3):148-52. ”Glucosamine's pain-relieving effects may be due to its cartilage-rebuilding properties; these disease-modifying effects are not seen with simple analgesics and are of particular benefit. In practice glucosamine can be used as an alternative to anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics or as a useful adjunct to standard analgesic therapy.” PMID: 11904551


Both chondroitin and glucosamine have been shown clinically to be exceptionally safe.



Since these substances work for horses, they might work for you.


Forsyth R, Brigden C, Northrop A (2006). Double blind investigation of the effects of oral supplementation of combined glucosamine hydrochloride (GHCL) and chondroitin sulphate (CS) on stride characteristics of veteran horses. Equine veterinary journal. Supplement (36): 622-5. PMID 17402494




Vitamins D and E, the mineral selenium, the omega-3 fatty acids (“fish oil”) and gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) are very important, too. A search for any of these using the “Search” box at the main page will bring up more information.


For more information on ARTHRITIS and DIET:



Bassleer C et al. Stimulation of proteoglycan production by glucosamine sulfate in chondrocytes isolated from human osteoarthritic articular cartilage in vitro. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 1998 Nov;6(6):427-34. 


Bruyere O., Reginster J.Y. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate as therapeutic agents for knee and hip osteoarthritis. Drugs Aging, 2007; 24 (7): 573-580


Kwan Tat S et al. Chondroitin and glucosamine sulfate in combination decrease the pro-resorptive properties of human osteoarthritis subchondral bone osteoblasts: a basic science study. Arthritis Res Ther. 2007 Nov 9;9(6):R117


Pavelka K, Gatterova J, Olejarova M, Machacek S, Giacovelli G, Rovati LC. "Glucosamine sulfate use and delay of progression of knee osteoarthritis: a 3-year, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study," Arch Intern Med, 2002 October 14;162(18):2113-23. PMID 12374520


Reginster JY et al. Long-term effects of glucosamine sulphate on osteoarthritis progression: a randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Lancet, 2001 January 27; 357(9252):251-6. PMID 11214126.


Sowers M, Lachance L. Vitamins and arthritis. The roles of vitamins A, C, D, and E. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 1999 May;25(2):315-32.


A reader says:


In 2004, I was disabled to the point of being unable to put on my own socks and underwear. My 4- and 8-year-old sons had to help me get dressed every day. For three months, my wife had to help me get off the floor in the morning, because I was unable to lie down in our bed. I couldn’t drive, fly in a plane, or even sit in a chair. I had lost the ability to function normally. My condition was diagnosed as sciatica, which in my case was the result of a bulging disc in my lower back pressing on nearby nerves. This pressure inflamed the nerves. As a result, I experienced debilitating pain in my lower back, legs and feet. Bluntly speaking, I was disabled.


“During this time, two of the Cleveland area’s finest neurologists performed a ‘walletectomy’ to the tune of $4,000, not counting money paid by my insurance company. They had hooked me to electrodes; they tapped, poked and prodded; they bathed me in X-rays and the magnetic fields of an MRI. They tried drugging me with Bextra, but two doses of that now-withdrawn COX-2 inhibitor made me violently ill. All this was nearly as expensive as it was painful. I faced the very real possibility of losing my career, my life savings and even the family home.


“When these two doctors met with me for the last time, the taller of the two stood next to me, put his arm around my shoulder, and said, ‘You’re just going to have to learn to live with this condition.’”


“So, that was it. The best minds in medicine decided I was hopeless, and I was just supposed to support a wife and two kids on whatever I could make standing up. By the time I hobbled to my wife’s car and crawled across the back seat, I was genuinely angry.  I left that clinic determined that there had to be a better way to regain my health than trust it to overpaid pill-pushers.


“Determined to find a way to heal, I searched the web for anything related to inflammation and how to cure it naturally.  Quite by accident, I stumbled across, and began my education as a student of orthomolecular medicine. I learned how nutrition could be used to treat and cure an amazing array of diseases that make up the cash cows of modern medicine.


Well, it all looked simple enough: drown the inflammation in vitamin C, and I might start to feel better. To be fair, I’ve never been the type of person to go into a program half-heartedly. I crawled back into the car and my wife took me to the health food store. For about $8, I bought an 8 ounce jar of ascorbic acid powder. We drove home, and using the Klenner protocol for vitamin C, I started on a regimen of 3 grams (just under 1 tsp) in a glass of water . . . 10 times a day, for a total of 30,000 mg daily.


“By the end of the first day, nothing had changed. On the morning of the second day, I got up off the floor by myself. It was difficult, but I did it. My back and legs still felt like there were ropes of pain burning inside my legs.


On the morning of the third day, I dressed myself, socks and underwear included, and that night I slept in my own bed for the first time in months. The pain in my legs and back was still there, but not a constant irritant as before.


On the morning of the fourth day, I was in a state of health. I dressed myself for outdoor work, grabbed the chain saw, and set to the task of cutting up a load of slab wood that I’d neglected for the last three months. When she heard the chain saw fire up, my wife came running out of the house. ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?’ she shouted above the rumbling saw in my hands. Shutting off the saw, I assured her that I was completely cured, had no pain, and couldn’t wait to get back to work.


“Over the next two weeks, I continued the regimen, astonished at the amount of C that my body seemed willing to absorb. Eventually, I reached bowel tolerance, cut the regimen by 50% and continued to add other forms of supplementation to my diet.


“Exactly four years later, I find myself amazed at the difference in my life using the information on the Doctor Yourself website.  I’ve helped myself, and I’ve been able to assist friends, relatives and my own family in ways I never thought possible.


“One special example of this is my own mother. In 2006, we lost Dad to lung cancer and a staph infection. On the same day as my father’s passing, we were told that Mom had stage 3A colon cancer that would require surgery. After the operation, Mom was moved to a rehab facility where she was told she would have to stay for 6-10 weeks. By using supplementation from the very first day in rehab, Mom was home in 18 days, and driving her own car within another month.


“We now believe in the value of orthomolecular medicine because we live it. Standing on the shoulders of giants, we have seen the way to health.”


Robert K. McClain
Brunswick, OH



"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep man in everlasting ignorance. That principle is condemnation without investigation." (Herbert Spencer)



Copyright C 2008 and revised version 2019 by Andrew W. Saul. All rights reserved.

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )


Andrew W. Saul


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