Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Darwin’s Diagnoses

By John Hayman

The father of modern biology suffered much at the hands of alternative medical practitioners.

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Charles Darwin had recurrent illness for most of his adult life, with many different and some bizarre symptoms. More than 40 diagnoses have been proposed for these, including some by proponents of alternative medicine. These include practitioners of “orthomolecular medicine” who treat complaints, including psychiatric complaints, with large, sometimes toxic, doses of vitamins (megavitamin therapy) in the belief that these will correct individual biochemical malfunctions.

Such beliefs are unproven – except, of course, by inevitable reports of occasional individuals describing miraculous

resolution of lifelong symptoms. These cases are always well-publicised, while the many more that have no benefit or even adverse effects are ignored. For example, the blowtorch of the controlled trial proved that niacin (vitamin B3) therapy had no effect on schizophrenia.

Among the many differing diagnoses proposed for Darwin’s illness is the proposal that Darwin suffered from pyrroluria. This is a hypothetical orthomolecular disorder in which there are said to be excessive pyrroles in the body due to defective haemoglobin synthesis. Orthodox scientific medical literature provides no evidence that such a condition exists.

Indeed, this ailment’s signs and symptoms are such that all of us would have at least one symptom of the condition. For example, did you get...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.