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Doctors+ | Show Notes | Interview with Dr. Mel Litman, MD

In this Alternative Food Network interview with Dr. Mel Litman, MD, a family physician whose practice follows the principles of orthomolecular medicine, listeners will learn about the connection between mitochondrial dysfunction and chronic disease, and the importance of choosing clean and nutrient dense foods that help us “get the good stuff in and the bad stuff out”.

 What is orthomolecular medicine?

“Nutrition comes first in medical diagnosis and treatment.” This is the first cardinal rule of orthomolecular medicine, first coined by bio-chemist Linus Pauling. Orthomolecular means the correct molecule or in other words, treating diseases using substances that are a normal part of the functioning of the body such as using vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and hormone balance which are involved in our normal biochemistry and physiology.

How nutrition is used to affect our whole functioning is the foundation of the whole approach. Nutrients are the materials that our biochemistry needs in order to do what it needs to do. So nutrition is first in terms of getting the nutrients you need and also not getting toxins that you don’t need.

Another cardinal principle of orthomolecular medicine is “Hope is an indispensable ally of the physician and an absolute right of the patient.”  Normally one does not think of hope as a biochemical treatment. But, there is a lot of work being done on the effects of what’s going on in your head on your physiology. Dr. Litman goes on to give an example of the placebo effect where a person gets better because of the belief they’re going to get better. The other side of this is the ‘nocebo’ effect; a person believes a treatment won’t work and that person makes themselves sick because of the belief that he or she will be sick. These beliefs can actually affect one’s biochemistry. According to Dr. Litman, “we can actually be negatively affecting people by the kind of hope that we give or destroy”.

Is orthomolecular medicine the same as functional medicine?
There is a lot of overlap. The person who started functional medicine, Dr. Jeffrey Bland, was a student of Linus Pauling. According to Dr. Litman, the thinking that when we look at diseases we’re looking at the underlying processes, is similar in both orthomolecular medicine and functional medicine.

What are mitochondria?
Mitochondria are the parts of our cells that produce most of the energy for the cells to function. They are also involved in regulating gene expression, cell communication, some hormone production and apoptosis or cell death.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction & Chronic Disease
If the mitochondria aren’t doing their job properly, we see things breaking down. Mitochondrial dysfunction underlies many chronic diseases according to Dr. Litman such as neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular problems, auto-immune diseases and psychiatric problems.

Nutrient Deficiencies and Toxins
Nutrients are what the mitochondria use in order to do their job. Nutrient deficiencies due to poor diets plus the toxins in our world today are damaging to the mitochondria. According to Dr. Litman we need to eat food to provide the nutrients and to be as clean as possible so that we’re not picking up the toxins that will mess with our health.

In addition to nutrition and reduction in toxins, other factors that support the functioning of the mitochondria are exercise, sleep and stress.

What is Toxic to the Mitochondria?
According to Dr. Litman, we are getting exposed to a lot of toxins including heavy metals, pesticides, plastics and certain medications.

Can we get the recommended nutrients from diet alone?
The nutrients in our food supply have gone down a fair bit according to Dr. Litman. “What we had 100 years ago is not what we have now.” When asked the reason, Dr. Litman stated today’s farming methods, the shipping of food long distances and pesticides as reasons why our food lacks critical nutrients.  To compensate for some of the toxic exposure, Dr. Litman says we need even more (nutrients) and we’re getting less. This is where supplements come into play such as a good multivitamin, CoQ10, PQQ, L-Carnitine, NAC and Alpha-Lipoic Acid. The combination of CoQ10 and PQQ is currently being studied mostly for the brain and memory function. Some of these supplements are in formal clinical trials and some information is from informal case studies according to Dr. Litman. It is important to get guidance from healthcare professionals with experience in this field as it can get complicated suggests Dr. Litman.

Mitochondria and Cancer
In episode 10 of the Doctors+ podcast, Dr. Litman mentions a new and active area of work which is looking at mitochondrial damage as a large component in cancer.

Additional Resources
Dr. Mel Litman Website:

Linus Pauling Institute:


All content provided or opinions expressed are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please see advice from a qualified healthcare practitioner.