The Mysterious ‘Vitamin P’

• Little-known substance helps your body turbocharge vitamin C to make it really work.

By James Spounias —

A top seller for decades, vitamin C remains a popular nutritional supplement, but is there more to the vitamin C “story” you may not know? Most identify vitamin C’s history with scurvy and have heard the British are called “limeys” because their famous navy incorporated the idea of bringing fresh citrus aboard for the men to eat, which prevented scurvy.

Scurvy is a horrible condition in which the mucous membranes hemorrhage, cell membranes lose permeability and integrity, the gums swell and bleed, the body loses strength and energy and the lower leg muscles grow hard and weak. People would die a horrible death due to these classic symptoms. The British didn’t know about vitamin C, but they knew there was something in this food that helped prevent scurvy.

We human beings do not have the capacity to manufacture vitamin C in our bodies as most other mammals do. We must get the vitamin from our diet. Without dietary vitamin C, our connective tissue falls apart and we literally disintegrate from the inside out.

In 1928, Albert Szent-Györgyi isolated the first vitamin C from adrenal tissue, citrus and cabbage, and later on the University of Pittsburgh verified it. Vitamin C was called the anti-scorbutic substance, and that is why it is called ascorbic acid. Though Szent-Györgyi was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1937 for this discovery, according to some, he was never fully satisfied because experiments with vitamin C showed something was “missing.”

Szent-Györgyi believed based on his experiments with vitamin C that there was a co-factor to vitamin C that actually led to the curing of scurvy—that it was not vitamin C alone.

What brought him to this conclusion was that synthesized vitamin C, or isolated vitamin C, did not work as well in curing scurvy as it did in its natural state, such as in a lemon or in an orange. The citrus worked much better in curing scurvy than did an isolated vitamin C. So that led Szent-Györgyi to believe there had to be a co-factor involved—a precursor or a co-factor working in synergy with ascorbic acid that led to the cure of the disease.

Szent-Györgyi had developed a substance from lemon peel, which he called “citron.” This citron consisted of a mixture of various substances, including so-called bioflavonoids. Sometimes citron was able to enforce vitamin C’s anti-scurvy effect on the vascular wall, sometimes it wasn’t. The results he obtained were very inconsistent, and citron alone, he felt, was not the cure for scurvy. So he really failed to identify in the citron mixture its complete chemical makeup. He realized that these substances had to be co-factors in vitamin C. Since the combination of vitamin C and citron were more suitable than ascorbic acid to prevent the collapse of the vascular wall, he believed that he had discovered another vitamin, which he called vitamin P, deriving “P” from “permeability.”

What’s missing from the vitamin C and bioflavonoid story is the work of Jacques Masquelier. Interestingly, there’s a French and North American twist predating the limey moniker. Masquelier, a French pharmacist, in 1947 isolated what are known as “oligomeric proanthocyanidins” (OPCs) while studying the flavonoid benefits of peanut skins. The dean’s wife at the university where Masquelier taught was pregnant and suffered from edema. Having demonstrated OPCs were non-toxic to the dean’s satisfaction, Masquelier was asked to “try it out” on the man’s wife. The dean’s wife was cured in 48 hours. Three years later—in 1950—the first vasculo-protective medicine was developed to be based upon OPC, in this case, from peanut skins.


While lecturing in Quebec, Canada, Masquelier learned that famous explorer Jacques Cartier had his own experience with scurvy. In the winter of 1534-1535, Cartier was caught in a sudden cold spell, a really disastrous winter during that time, freezing the St. Lawrence River which trapped Cartier and his crew of more than 100 men. Cartier’s logbook described the horrible and awful details of how his men went into slow decay, weakened quickly and died from scurvy.

Cartier, while trading with the natives, had met a particular Indian. This Indian told him about a tree, that if he boiled the bark and the needles of this tree, it would cure the dreaded disease from which his crewmen were suffering. Cartier found the tree, boiled the bark and the needles, made it into a tea—an extract of tea, if you will—and gave it to his men. It was shortly thereafter that his men were totally cured. In fact, the scurvy they were suffering from completely disappeared in many of them and some after only 48 hours.

Masquelier recalled conversations he had with Szent-Györgyi when Masquelier shared his work with the Nobel Prize winner. In one instance, at Masquelier’s laboratory in France, Szent-Györgyi remarked: “’Don’t you know that in the United States no one believes in bioflavonoids [citrin] anymore?’ So even he, the father of vitamin P, had abandoned this track, because he hadn’t been able to explain why he would sometimes get a good result and sometimes a bad result.”

Adding to that, on more than one occasion, Szent-Györgyi said to Masquelier: “It’s unbelievable. They have made me the father of vitamin C, while I wasn’t, and they have refused to make me the father of vitamin P, which I was.” There was always this feeling of regret, because he knew that both substances were needed to conquer scurvy.

Masquelier believed that the FDA’s determination that bioflavonoids were barely if not totally inactive substances “seriously harmed the concept of vitamin P and bioflavonoids in general.” Essentially, this discouraged research into a better understanding of OPCs, though technically, the FDA was correct that most bioflavonoids don’t work—until OPCs came along.

Vitamin C and OPCs have a marked synergy, according to Masquelier, who in 1976 conducted a test to prove his point. Reacting to scurvy as humans do, guinea pigs were divided into five groups. The control group got vitamin C, while others received nothing or sub-optimal levels of vitamin C, with some getting different levels of OPCs. The results proved that those who received the right amount of OPCs, even though deprived of vitamin C, survived as long as those who got adequate amounts of vitamin C.

Talk is cheap but this proved OPCs have a valuable sparing effect, bringing Masquelier to say, “Our test demonstrated that if you administer OPC and vitamin C you can decrease the dosage of vitamin C tenfold.”

Noting that Linus Pauling took high doses of vitamin C throughout the day, Masquelier commented: “In a way Pauling was right about his doses of vitamin C. Not knowing about OPC, he had no other options. But I am convinced that if Linus Pauling had known OPC, he would have not prescribed 20 grams of vitamin C, but a small amount of vitamin C and a small amount of OPC. Most certainly I feel that I would have been able to convince him.”

Vitamin C together with OPCs creates a powerful, synergistic combination.


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James Spounias is the president of Carotec Inc., originally founded by renowned radio show host and alternative health expert Tom Valentine and his wife, Carole. To receive a free issue of Carotec Health Report—a monthly newsletter loaded with well-researched and reliable alternative health information—please write Carotec, P.O. Box 9919, Naples, FL 34101 or call 1-800-522-4279. Also included will be a list of the high-quality health supplements Carotec recommends.