The Legacies of Paavo Airola

J. Darlene Forester, Ph.D., Sheree L.T. Thompson
February 1, 1987

Health Plus Publishers, of Scottsdale, Arizona, a division of Airola, Inc., actively markets its books through health food stores. To encourage them to stock up, one of its recent mailings said:

Take just one of our books, How to Get Well, by Dr. Paavo Airola (800,000 copies sold to date — mostly in health food stores). That book recommends vitamins, minerals and other supplements, herbs, juices, and natural foods for more than 60 common ailments, as well as equipment such as juicers, seed grinders, and flour mills.

For example: for osteoporosis . . . you have the potential of selling: 14 vitamins and supplements, modestly estimated at $5.00/product; 5 herbal products @ $3.00 each; groceries . . . $20; possibly a piece or two of equipment such as a juicer or seed grinder ($200). TOTAL: $305.00 . . . And your customer will most likely return for replenishment of supplements and foods.

These figures might not be accurate, but you get the picture. Now multiply these figures times hundreds of customers and 60+ ailments, and you can see what far-reaching effects one book such as How to Get Well can have on your overall sales volume.

The book’s jacket states that Paavo Airola, Ph.D., N.D., was “an internationally recognized nutritionist, naturopathic physician, award-winning author, and renowned lecturer. He studied nutrition, biochemistry and biological medicine in Europe, then spent many years studying ancient, herbal, and alternative healing methods during his world-wide travels. His clinical experience was acquired while directing various biological medical clinics in Europe and Mexico. Because of his pioneering work and extensive knowledge, Dr. Airola is looked upon as a world-leading authority on nutrition and holistic medicine.” Several of his other publications label him “America’s foremost nutritionist” and “America’s #1 bestselling health author.” But none of them provides details of his educational background.

Airola’s books are similar to each other, and a few simply duplicate chapters of other works with new titles. Overall, he touts a diet that stresses fresh, raw, organically grown fruits, vegetables, and grains. Animal proteins are out, except for farm-fresh-fertilized eggs, and unpasteurized cows’ or goats’ milk. Airola claims that meat causes cancer and that protein requirements can be met from plant sources if they are eaten raw. Enzymes, he says, make the protein in these foods complete. His recommendations also include a regimen of vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements, fermented foods, and a collection of health and beauty “secrets” from countries all over the world.

Airola died in 1983, but 11 of his 14 books and booklets are still sold by Health Plus Publishers:

Stop Hair Loss (1965), a 32-page booklet, suggests methods for preventing baldness and for restoring hair to bald heads. Airola recommends headstands and a scalp operation to increase scalp circulation, and various dietary rules and food supplements such as kelp (dried seaweed) to “feed your hair from within.”

How to Keep Slim, Healthy, and Young with Juice Fasting (1971), an 80-page book said to have 500,000 copies in print, describes how to fast for up to 40 days on juices made from raw fruits and vegetables. Included are stories of how Airola supposedly cured patients of arthritis, cancer, asthma, obesity, diabetes, and abnormal heart rhythms, all with juice fasting. Prolonged fasting is dangerous because it causes breakdown of proteins in vital organs such as the heart and kidneys. But Airola claims (incorrectly) that the body decomposes only dead, dying and damaged cells, tumors and abscesses, and that all vital organs are spared. He says raw juices are “youthifying” and calls juice fasting “the oldest and most effective healing method known to man.” His recommendations include string bean skin tea for diabetes, carrot juice for emphysema, and apple juice for nervousness. But he also attempts to disclaim responsibility by stating (in boldface type): “The information in this book is not intended as diagnosing or prescribing; it should be used in cooperation with your doctor to solve your health problems. In the event you use the information yourself, you are prescribing for yourself, which is your constitutional right, but the author and publisher assume no responsibility.”

Swedish Beauty Secrets (1971), a 32-page booklet, claims that “Sweden, a little, far-away Scandinavian country, has produced more internationally known beauties than any other country in the world.” Airola attributes this to use of “certain elements in their daily diet and beauty care which the latest scientific research has proven to be miraculous beauty aids.” He considers rose hips the “number one beauty aid” because their vitamin C prevents wrinkles from collagen breakdown due to vitamin C deficiency. He also states that whey will keep the complexion “velvety fresh” by combating bacterial putrefaction and preventing constipation, which he considers “the enemy of beauty.”

Are You Confused? (1971), a 224-page book said to have over 700,000 copies in print, covers his basic philosophy with each of his health “secrets” described at length. To help readers decide what information is “absolutely reliable, objective and scientifically correct,” he suggests that “laboratory research and animal tests are only of limited value as compared to the thousands of years of actual human experience with nutrition capable of producing superior health.”

How to Get Well (1974), a 304-page book, offers “a complete therapeutic program” for more than 60 health problems, including arthritis, bladder infection, cataracts, diabetes, emphysema, heart disease, impotence, multiple sclerosis, paralysis (from a stroke) and stomach ulcers. For each of these conditions, he recommends “foods, vitamins, food supplements, juices, herbs, fasting, baths and other ancient and modern nutritional and biological modalities.” The vitamin guide lists 23 “vitamins” although the scientific community recognizes only 13.

Occasionally he includes some facts. His discussion of heart disease, for example, correctly identifies smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, lack of exercise, high blood cholesterol and other “risk factors.” But for treating heart disease he advises a diet that contains no salt, sugar, coffee, meat, distilled water or refined carbohydrates. He also states: “Do not drink chlorinated water. Chlorine destroys vitamin E in the body, which is absolutely essential for the health of the heart. This is extremely important.”

The Miracle of Garlic (1978), a 48-page booklet, claims that garlic can help or correct high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, emphysema, digestive disorders, intestinal worms, insomnia, colds, allergies, asthma and many other conditions. Although recent research suggests that garlic may have some health benefits, Airola’s claims were premature and go far beyond what is possible.

Everywoman’s Book (1979), a 640-page book, covers women’s health issues, including childbirth, adjusted to his philosophy. The book begins with a disclaimer that its information is offered “purely for educational or experimental purposes” and that the author and the publisher “assume no responsibility in regard to the effectiveness of, or possible harm incurred from correct or incorrect application of therapeutic approaches described within.” Airola’s questionable ideas include: 1) headstands might make the breasts firmer; 2) sugar should be completely excluded during pregnancy or lactation; 3) immunizations generally do more harm than good, but if you want your child to get them anyway, administer large daily doses of vitamin C for one to two weeks beforehand; 4) eating lots of salty foods prior to conception will increase the odds of having a boy while eating calcium-rich foods will increase the odds of having a girl.

The Airola Diet and Cookbook (1981), a 288-page book, contains a weight-loss diet, a “complete vitamin guide,” a “complete mineral guide,” and over 200 recipes developed and tested by Airola’s daughter, Anni Airola Lines, who is a registered dietitian. The diet is based on what he calls “three basic food groups”: 1) grains, legumes, beans, seeds and nuts; 2) vegetables; and 3) fruits. Though his advice to consume abundant amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is commendable, Airola’s diet is almost devoid of complete protein sources. He makes no attempt to complement vegetable protein sources because he believes raw vegetables, buckwheat, and millet provide complete proteins — which they do not. Like many strict vegetarian diets, his “optimum diet” tends to be low in calories as well. The “vitamin guide” lists 22 vitamins. Although this book is the most conservative of Airola’s works, it still displays ignorance of many basic food and nutrition concepts.

Hypoglycemia: A Better Approach (1977), a 192-page book, is Airola’s basic three-food-group diet with emphasis on curing “low blood sugar,” which he claims affects over 20 million Americans.

Cancer: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment — The Total Approach (1972), a 48-page booklet, begins: “I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not offer a cure for cancer. I only report how cancer is successfully treated in several of the biological clinics in Europe.” In a footnote, he explains that this disclaimer was made “mainly to protect myself against persecution by over-zealous government agencies, who, in the name of the public, mercilessly attack anyone who not only dares to advise but even to report on unorthodox cancer therapies.”

The booklet gives Airola’s personal list of 22 causes of cancer, including animal protein, salt, and heated vegetable oils. His “anti-cancer diet” excludes meat, fowl, eggs, fish and cows’ milk, and includes juice fasting, and systematic undereating, which he described as a low-protein diet eaten as several small meals per day. His “anti-cancer supplements” include: up to 150,000 International Units (I.U.) of vitamin A per day (an amount likely to build up to toxic levels); pangamate and laetrile (which he calls vitamins B-15 and B-17 even though they are not vitamins); 5,000 mg of vitamin C; 1,000 I.U. of vitamin E; and digestive enzyme supplements “to help the body better utilize nutrients, particularly proteins.” He concludes by advocating laetrile and other “non-toxic unorthodox treatments.”

Curiously, Airola’s daughter acknowledges that pangamate and laetrile are incorrectly referred to as vitamins and omits them from her own Health Plus book, Vitamins and Minerals: The Health Connection (1985), in which she claims there are 17 vitamins.

Worldwide Secrets for Staying Young (1982), a 208-page book, covers “proven and effective ways to halt and reverse the aging processes and live a long and healthy life.” Each of the first 13 chapters covers “health and longevity secrets” from one part of the world. For example: rose-hip tea and whey (Sweden); rye (Finland); fermented foods, mineral water, and juice fasting (Germany); soured milk (Bulgaria); pollen-rich honey, garlic and onions, and buckwheat (Russia); ginseng and gotu kola (China); and skipping breakfast, except for a piece of fruit (Pitcairn Islands). Claiming that “one of the true fountains of youth is optimum nutrition,” Airola recommends an “optimum diet” composed mainly of seeds, nut and grains, vegetables, and fruits, supplemented with “special super-foods” and food supplements. He also claims that humans should live to the age of 120 unless they “kill themselves prematurely by violating the basic laws of health and life.”

Despite all this, Airola was only 64 when he suffered a fatal stroke.


This article was published in the February 1987 issue of Nutrition Forum. At that time, Dr. Forester was State Extension Specialist and Associate Extension Professor of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, and Sheree L.T. Thompson was a dietetics student at the University of Kentucky College of Home Economics. Several of Airola’s books are still widely sold.

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