Jay Patrick has spent most of his adult life consumed by, and consuming, vitamin C. When he was in his late 50s, working as a lab chemist in New Jersey, he was felled by severe jaw pain that could not be quelled by conventional medicine. He happened upon research that extolled the health and energy-promoting virtues of vitamin C, and he embarked on a regimen of 2,000 mg per day. Within a week his pain was gone, his life path altered forever.
"At the age of 60, I found my purpose in life," says Patrick, now 91 years old. That purpose was and still is—with unremitting fervor—to spread the word about mineral ascorbates, a form of vitamin C that animals, but not humans, produce in their livers. Animals live seven times past their maturity (a dog, for instance, is mature at 2 but lives on average to 14). Says Patrick, it's possible that humans could do the same (mature at 15, maybe live to 105) if they too had an abundance of mineral ascorbates circulating in their bodies.
The research that ignited his passion all those years ago was that of Irwin Stone, Ph.D., a pioneer proponent of vitamin C. When Patrick's interest in C first was piqued, he would pilot his boat down the Hudson River to Stone's house on Staten Island to discuss the healing power of the vitamin. Ultimately, there was a parting of the ways between these men over the optimal form of vitamin C. Patrick believes that mineral ascorbates are superior, because, he says, they are more readily absorbed by the body, not as acidic and easier to digest compared to other forms—therefore allowing higher dose consumption.
According to Patrick, ascorbic acid, the most common form of supplemental C, is more likely to cause stomach upset and so just doesn't pack the punch of the seven mineral ascorbates (potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, zinc, chromium) that are the carriers, and, Patrick insists, the preferable form of the vitamin.
His new mission in life led Patrick to California, where he established Alacer Corp. in 1970 and continued his research. He studied the work of other champions of vitamin C, including Nobel laureates Linus Pauling and Albert Szent-Gyorgi, the latter of whom worked as an Alacer consultant at the company's conception.
Patrick's goal was to develop vitamin C products using mineral ascorbates as the vitamin's delivery system. This allows the vitamin to bypass the digestive tract and be directly absorbed into the cells where it's needed. "We found that ascorbates act as carrying agents, delivering the nutrients to every cell of the body," he says.
He soon achieved his goal. Alacer's first product—Super Gram C—a timed-release capsule of 1,000 mg mineral ascorbates, was introduced in 1970. Eight years later, Alacer debuted what soon became the company's ubiquitous and best-selling product, Emer'gen-C—packets of effervescent powder that contain 1,000 mg of mineral ascorbates, 38 mineral complexes and B vitamins. Emer'gen-C is now available in more than 20 flavors, even coffee and cola, plus a strawberry formulation for kids. Those colorful packets, said to boost energy and labeled with encouragement ("Get Up & Go!"), are now the top-selling vitamin C products sold in health food stores, and the fourth-best-selling brand of vitamin C sold in mainstream grocery stores.
If it were up to Patrick, he'd speak of nothing but C, specifically mineral ascorbates, what he refers to as "the real vitamin C."
"My father's life is vitamin C," says son Ron Patrick, vice president of operations for Alacer. "[My father] has lived and breathed it for more than 30 years."
According to the elder Patrick, everyone needs C and lots of it. "Most of us are wandering on a precipice, with minimal amounts of vitamin C in our body, making us vulnerable to trauma," he says, which is not an issue for Patrick, who stands on solid ground after decades of daily supplementation.
"He's probably taken vitamin C longer than anyone," says Ron of his father. So if there is merit to his belief in the power of the vitamin, Jay Patrick is living proof. "I take 10 grams of mineral ascorbates each day. I haven't had a cold in 30 years, and I have coronary arteries completely free of plaque," Patrick says.
Alacer's press packet contains a copy of Patrick's latest brain MRI, showing a hearty-sized hippocampus, the site responsible for cognitive functioning, unusual in its heft for a man his age, he says.
"Wonder why my hair is this color?" asks Patrick, pointing to his muted-brown locks one afternoon in March while sitting at Alacer's booth at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif. No words necessary; he demonstrates the answer by tossing two Super Gram IIIs into the back of his throat and following those with a chaser of tropical-fruit-flavored Emer'gen-C. "If you do that three times a day, one pill or one packet, you'll be covered," he advises.
But for Patrick it's not enough that he knows the answer; he wants others—millions of others—to know the truth of what he says and to follow his lead. That there is this substance that could help so many but is taken by so few drives him to keep going, to keep spreading the word. He credits vitamin C with an impressive and surprising array of health benefits: improving vision (his, he says, is 20/20), increasing muscle tone in children with cerebral palsy, preventing cognitive and memory loss, aiding in liver regeneration, correcting sleep apnea, even helping coma victims return to consciousness.
He founded the Committee for World Health in 1978 to do further research on how vitamin C might help treat and prevent these and other illnesses. The committee is researching the effects of mineral ascorbates on patients hospitalized in Mexico and Russia, looking in particular at liver ailments such as hepatitis and cirrhosis. In addition, the committee is currently working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seeking to donate products to AIDS-plagued central Africa.
For the past 32 years, Patrick's focus has been on developing products, particularly those with mineral ascorbates, although Alacer's line has expanded beyond vitamin C. And he's had his challenges.
"Like any pioneer, he had to figure out the entire production process," says his son. "But through it all, he just wouldn't quit." And all these years later, Patrick still puts in long hours at the office, arriving at his desk every morning at 8 a.m., (with a midday break for a gym workout), overseeing his business, thinking continually of ways to get his message across. "He is still very active in the company; the master chef, the final arbiter of products," says his son.
In his spare time, Patrick writes articles (e.g., "Are Girls Smarter [than boys]?" Answer: more circulating mineral ascorbates), and he just completed a book, Staying Alive and Being Alive, that is excerpted on the company Web site. The site also includes testimonials from devotees of Emer'gen-C, such as actors Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone.
Patrick displays an energy that results in equal measure from his ingestion of and passion for mineral ascorbates. To Patrick, his vitamin C products are not just supplements; they are something that could save us all. "I am going to live to 100 because it is so critical to me to continue to get out the word about vitamin C," he says with conviction. "I know I am living a useful life."
Barbara Hey is a Boulder, Colo.,-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 7/p. 20, 22