Effects of molybdenum on pain and general health: A pilot study


Fourteen people graded their aches and pains and general health for 28 days. They then took either up to 500 mu g of molybdenum as amino acid chelate per day, or placebo for the next 28 days, while they continued their records. The groups were crossed over for a third 28-day period. Their aches and pains improved on molybdenum (significant at the 0.05 level). Their general health also improved on molybdenum (significant at the 0.025 level). Suggestions are made for categories of people who may benefit from molybdenum supplementation, and for areas of further research. Combination of molybdenum with other nutrients is suggested, together with possible dietary alterations.

Keywords: molybdenum, pain, general health, dietary alterations.

Molybdenum is an essential element [ 1] found, for example, in buckwheat, whole pulses, whole grains, liver, wheatgerm and red cabbage, which tend not to be popular foods in Western countries today [ 2, 3].

Molybdenum is required to make the detoxifying enzymes aldehyde oxidase, xanthine dehydrogenase, xanthine oxidase and sulphite oxidase [ 4]. The adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP) system is affected by molybdenum [ 5], which is thus active in the provision of energy for cells. Sulphite oxidase is involved in making sulphate and taurine, both of which are involved in detoxification [ 6, 7]. Molybdenum is needed with iron to make haemoglobin.

Given its relevance to detoxification, it would not be surprising if molybdenum contributed to the treatment of chemical sensitivity or alcoholism. Experience with my own patients does suggest this may be so. What was perhaps more surprising was that several patients had reported to me that molybdenum took away their aches and pains. In fact, all four of the first patients I treated with molybdenum noticed this. This trial was designed to discover whether these reports were more than coincidence.

It was decided to use a single-blind cross-over study. Volunteers with chronic aches and pains were recruited through personal contact or notices in shops. They filled in a questionnaire on diet, symptoms, diagnosis, the category of the person making the diagnosis, home water piping and current treatment. They were asked to fill in a form daily for 28 days, giving a rating for their aches and pains, and a separate rating for their general health. They used a 5-point scale: 5--very bad; 4--bad; 3--moderate; 2--fairly good; 1--good.

They were then divided into two groups, X and Y. Originally, these were arranged so that the number with any diagnosis, or the number of males and females, was the same in the two groups, or differed by only 1, and the average ages were as close as possible. A few participants dropped out, leaving these groups less well balanced, with six people in group X and eight in group Y. No one dropped out because of side-effects. One person dropped out because her general practitioner objected. One form was lost in the post from Zimbabwe. Other elderly people could not manage the paperwork.

Group X were given molybdenum capsules, labelled A1, to take first. These are no longer available, but were supplied by Lamberts Healthcare, 1 Lamberts Rd, Tunbridge Wells TN2 3EQ, UK. These contained micro-crystalline cellulose, molybdenum amino acid chelate, gelatine, stearate and silica. The elemental molybdenum was 100 mu g per capsule. Group X participants were asked to take one capsule with breakfast, lunch and the evening meal, and one at bedtime, i.e. 400 mu g a day. In case of feeling no symptoms, this could be reduced to two or three capsules. In case of severe pain, this could be increased to five. Group Y were given placebo capsules, made by Lamberts to look like the A1 capsules. However, these were filled with only micro-crystalline cellulose. They were labelled B1. The instructions were the same.

Symptoms were again recorded daily on the 5-point scale. At the end of the 28 days, participants recorded whether the capsules seemed to help. Group X then had 28 days on placebo capsules, while group Y were on molybdenum. Two participants from group X had a further 28-day period on molybdenum, to check if improvement continued.

To avoid any unconscious message that one type of capsule might be better than another, the A1 and B1 capsules were handed or posted together to the participants, with a covering letter saying which to take first.

The ratings for the first 28-day period were averaged. For the second and third periods, the ratings for the last 20 days were averaged, as the first few days were likely to reflect the previous month's treatment, or absence of it.

Using the self-rating scale, participants' mean reported scores in the active treatment periods, were significantly better than in the pre-treatment period. In the placebo treatment periods participants showed a lesser improvement in aches and pains, but little or no improvement in their ratings of general health. Using the one-tailed t-tests for unidirectional hypotheses, it was found that for aches and pains, molybdenum was significantly better than no treatment at all at the 0.005 level; placebo was significantly better than no treatment at all at the 0.05 level; molybdenum was significantly better than placebo at the 0.05 level. For general health, molybdenum was significantly better than no treatment at all at the 0.005 level; placebo was not significantly better than no treatment at all; molybdenum was significantly better than placebo at the 0.025 level.

To check whether taking only the last 20 days of month 2 and 3 would give a realistic assessment of that month's result, I checked how many days occurred before the participant improved or deteriorated. This suggested that omitting the first 8 days of a 28-day period was adequate. It appears that molybdenum in the quantity used acts within a few days, but that the effects of a 28-day course wear off a few days after finishing it.
Comments on Individual Results

X1 Pain in toe disappeared when taking molybdenum. Pain in foot improved. Patient was sure she was taking the active capsule that month.

X2 Decided the capsules do work, and to keep on taking them.

X3 General health improved immediately on taking molybdenum, and deteriorated immediately on placebo.

X4 General health and aches and pains improved on molybdenum and deteriorated immediately on placebo.

X5 Pain considerably reduced during molybdenum month. Swelling much reduced. Hands and knuckles became much more mobile. Regressed on placebo. Was quite clear that these capsules were useless. Improved further on extra molybdenum month. Continues on molybdenum and has been able to reduce her dose to 200 mu g/day.

X6 General health good throughout the molybdenum month.

Y1 Cramps disappeared and rheumatic pain reduced a little during molybdenum month.

Y2 No obvious improvement. The oldest participant.

Y3 Lives in Zimbabwe. Was doubtful about participating, as she would be travelling in the UK and unable to keep to her usual low-purine diet. Drinks two gin, bitters and soda and two brandy and water a day. Possibly a higher dose of molybdenum would be required to improve her arthritis, given that alcohol needs detoxifying by molybdenum enzymes. She only took 2-3 capsules a day, rather than the 4 or 5 I had stipulated for those in pain.

Y4 Shoulders and hips much better during molybdenum month. General health also better.

Y5 Only took 3 capsules a day, which was less than I stipulated for anyone with pain.

Y6 Addicted to alcohol. During the first molybdenum month, she was able to walk better without her stick. Had a second molybdenum month. Aches and pains now much better. More positive about dealing with alcohol. Looked well.

Y7 Felt his rheumatic pain had halved during the molybdenum month. Felt like a young man again. His wife agreed. Walking and morale observed to be much improved.

Y8 Rheumatism improved in molybdenum month, despite having discontinued a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that he had used in month 1. General health affected by a digestive infection in molybdenum month.
A Problem with Instructions

Participants were asked to reduce capsules below 4 a day only if they had no pain. However, there was a tendency to forget to take more than three. I suspect compliance would have been better if they had been asked to take, for example, 1 x 500 mu g capsule, or 2 x 200 mu g capsules. Participants seemed to forget to take an extra capsule when pain was severe. Participants who were in closer contact with me were reminded to do this, and seemed to learn to vary their consumption better, according to need.

This trial was based on self-assessment of symptoms. A large-scale trial using 500 mu g of molybdenum once a day for 3 months would be valuable, for both rheumatoid arthritis and for osteoarthritis. Alcohol is first converted by the body to aldehyde, by alcohol dehydrogenase. This requires zinc and vitamin B3. The aldehyde is then detoxified by aldehyde oxidase, using molybdenum and vitamin B2. A trial of these four nutrients in alcoholism would be interesting. In candidiasis, alcohol and aldehyde are produced [ 8, 9, 10], and a similar trial could be tried.

Chemically sensitive people may benefit from the same four nutrients for making alcohol dehydrogenase, aldehyde oxidase, xanthine dehydrogenase and oxidase, and sulphite oxidase. Such people may report symptoms from air polluted with sulphur dioxide, or formaldehyde, from drinks containing alcohol or metabisulphite or from preservatives in salads [ 11].

People may be sensitive to hypochlorite because of lack of the sulphur amino acid, taurine. Without adequate taurine, aldehydes are produced [ 12]. These increase the requirement for the molybdenum enzyme, aldehyde oxidase.

People with inadequate sulphite oxidase may not produce enough sulphate. Sulphate is needed for the phenolsulphotransferase enzymes, PST-M and PST-P, to detoxify amines and phenol [ 7].

A high purine or high alcohol diet increases the demand on xanthine dehydrogenase and aldehyde oxidase, respectively. Copper antagonizes molybdenum and may increase the need for it [ 13]. Foods like apples, pears, peaches, tomatoes, peppers and hazelnuts may contain a high level of boron [ 14, 15], which causes excretion of vitamin B2 [ 16].

Where detoxification is inefficient, it may be wise to reduce the consumption of purines in yeast, red meat and oily fishes, as well as the consumption of boron in food. A water filter can be used to lower copper intake. In hypochlorite sensitivity, taurine can be supplemented, so that aldehydes are not produced. Where sulphite oxidation is deficient, sulphate can be supplemented, as magnesium or zinc sulphate, so that phenolsulphotransferase can conjugate amines and phenol.

Since molybdenum is reported to prevent dental caries [ 17], the use of this essential mineral may be preferable to using fluoride.

Given the importance of molybdenum and riboflavin (vitamin B2) in detoxification, it may be wise to increase the quantities of these in multiple supplements, designed for prevention of disease in polluted countries. Perhaps molybdenum accounts for some of the success claimed for whole food diets.

Where patients have a chronic lack of energy, molybdenum and vitamin B2 may help, by increasing the supply of xanthine dehydrogenase and thus strengthening the ATP system [ 5]. Alternatively, if lack of energy is due to anaemia, the same enzyme may assist [ 18, 3].

Cyanide, found, for example, in almonds, apricots, peaches and maize, inhibits the xanthine oxidizing enzymes [ 19]. Aldehyde, found in apples, peaches, pears, tomatoes, pineapples, strawberries and many other foods [ 20] gives extra work to these two enzymes, as well as to aldehyde oxidase. Sucrose splits into glucose and fructose [ 21]. Fructose is metabolized using alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde oxidase [ 22]. It is not surprising that chemically sensitive people are also food intolerant.

The results of this trial show a statistically significant improvement in arthritis and other aches and pains with oral molybdenum. The improvement in general health appeared to be greater. Given the high cost to social security, the health service, to employers and to the sufferers themselves, such a cheap treatment might be very cost-effective. A computer search revealed no previous trial of this kind. A large-scale trial would be welcome. While some reasons for the effect of molybdenum on general health are known, the connection with arthritis of different types remains to be explained.

I wish to thank Drs D. L. J. Freed, P. J. Kingsley and C. W. M. Wilson, who have patiently taught me to observe, investigate and report. I am grateful to Lamberts Healthcare Ltd for providing free molybdenum and placebo capsules, as well as helpful literature.
TABLE 1. Participants[a]

Legend for chart:

A - Code diagnosis
B - Sex
C - Age (Years)
D - Home
E - Pipes
F - Estimated diet content of Mo
G - Estimated diet content of Purines and alcohol


Group X

X1 Arthritis F 63 Manchester
Cu Moderate Moderate

X2 Arthritis F 60 Derbyshire
Plastic High Moderate

X3 Polyarthritis F 63 Scotland
Plastic Low Moderate

X4 Arthritis F 58 Stockport
Cu Moderate Moderate

X5 Arthritis F 61 Stockport
Cu Low High

X6 Low back pain M 66 Stockport
Cu High Low

Group Y

Y1 Rheumatoid arthritis F 56 Manchester
Cu Moderate Moderate

Y2 Osteoarthritis F 81 Manchester
Cu Moderate Moderate

Y3 Rheumatoid arthritis F 65 Zimbabwe
Fe/Zn High High

Y4 Frozen shoulder F 47 Sheffield
Cu Moderate Moderate

Y5 Arthritis F 68 Stockport
Cu Moderate Moderate

Y6 Arthritis and alcoholic F 63 Scotland
Cu Moderate High

Y7 Rheumatoid arthritis M 57 Stockport
Pb/Cu Moderate Moderate

Y8 Rheumatoid Arthritis M 53 Tyne and Wear
Cu Moderate High

a Some participants were unsure about their piping; X1 also had osteoporosis; Y4 also had pains in legs and hips.
TABLE 2. Average self-assessment scores of participants when taking no capsule, molybdenum (Mo) or placebo, from 5 (very bad) to 1 (good)

Legend for chart:

A - Month
B - Aches and pains, 1
C - Aches and pains, 2
D - Aches and pains, 3
E - Aches and pains, 4
F - General health, 1
G - General health, 2
H - General health, 3
I - General health, 4


Capsule -- Mo Placebo Mo
-- Mo Placebo Mo


X1 2.29 1.45 1.80 --
2.04 1.40 1.55 --

X2 4.29 2.75 4.85 --
1.00 1.00 1.00 --

X3 2.00 2.00 2.00 --
2.00 1.00 2.00 --

X4 2.89 1.60 1.05 --
2.50 1.45 1.00 --

X5 3.20 1.60 2.08 1.38
1.04 1.00 1.00 1.00

X6 1.86 2.05 2.25 --
1.68 1.00 1.75 --

Capsule -- Placebo Mo Mo
-- Placebo -- --


Y1 2.71 1.90 1.60 --
1.29 2.15 1.20 --

Y2 2.25 2.00 2.20 --
2.00 2.20 2.05 --

Y3 2.86 2.90 3.05 --
1.00 1.00 1.20 --

Y4 2.33 2.65 1.35 --
2.07 2.05 1.00 --

Y5 3.00 2.35 2.70 --
1.00 1.00 1.00 --

Y6 3.36 1.60 1.75 1.10
1.96 2.30 1.25 1.00

Y7 3.75 3.95 2.20 --
2.00 1.75 1.30 --

Y8 3.21 3.00 2.60 --
3.29 2.35 2.55 --

TABLE 3. Self-assessment scores of group X and group Y, when taking no capsule, molybdenum (Mo) or placebo, from 5 (very bad) to 1 (good)

Aches and pains General health

Group X

Month 1 2 3 1 2 3
Capsule -- Mo placebo -- Mo placebo
Total 16.53 11.45 14.03 10.26 6.85 8.3
Mean 2.755 1.908 2.338 1.710 1.142 1.383
Range 2.43 1.3 3.8 1.5 0.45 1

Group Y

Month 1 2 3 1 2 3
Capsule -- placebo Mo -- placebo Mo
Total 23.47 20.35 17.45 14.61 14.80 11.55
Mean 2.934 2.544 2.181 1.826 1.850 1.444
Range 0.75 1 1.7 1.07 1.2 1.05

TABLE 4. Time taken to improve or deteriorate

Improved on molybdenum (days) Deteriorated on placebo (days)

X1 2 6
X2 0 0
X3 0 0
X4 7 No deterioration
X5 6 7
X6 4 7
Y1 5
Y2 0
Y3 0
Y4 2
Y5 0
Y6 2
Y7 3
Y8 4

0 means that the improvement or deterioration was from the date the treatment was changed, i.e. a delay of 0 days.

[1] Rajagopalan KV. Molybdenum--an essential trace element. Nutr Rev 1987; 45: 321-8.

[2] Pfeiffer CC. Zinc and Other Micronutrients. New Canaan, CT: Keats, 1978.

[3] Parham MR, DeRenzo EC. Nutrient Deficiencies in Animals--Molybdenum. In: Rechcigl M Jun, ed. Handbook Series in Nutrition and Food. Section E: Nutritional Disorders. Vol. 2. FL: CRC, 1978; 319-325.

[4] Rajagopalan KV. Molybdenum: an essential trace element in human nutrition. Ann Rev Nutr 1988; 8: 401-27.

[5] Solomons CC, Bekemans K. Biological effects of molybdenum. Chappell WR, Petersen KK, eds. Molybdenum in the Environment, Vol. 1. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1976, 229-41.

[6] Schmitt WH. Molybdenum for Candida Albicans Patients and Other Problems. The Digest of Chiropractic Economics. Jan./Feb. 1989, 56-63.

[7] Brostoff J. Non-immunological Food Reactions--Effects of Enzyme Deficiency and Neuropeptides in Food Sensitive Patients. In: Dobbing J, ed. Food Intolerance. Bailliere Tindall, 1987, 32-53.

[8] Howard JM. Intestinal Dysbiosis. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. I. UK. London: Longman, 1993, 153-7.

[9] Eaton KK, Howard JM, Hunnisett A, Harris M. Abnormal gut fermentation: laboratory studies reveal deficiency of B vitamins, zinc and magnesium. J Nutr Blochem 1993; 4: 635-8.

[10] Truss CO. Metabolic abnormalities in patients with chronic candidiasis: the acetaldehyde hypothesis. J Orthomol Psychiatry 1984; 13: 66-93.

[11] Papaioannou R, Pfeiffer CC. Sulfite sensitivity--unrecognized threat: is molybdenum deficiency the cause? J Orthomol Psychiatry 13: 105-10.

[12] Rea WJ. Chemical Sensitivity, Vol. 1. Boca Raton: Lewis, 1992.

[13] Dunne LJ. Nutritional Almanac. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990.

[14] Nielsen FH. Other elements. IV Boron (B). In: Mertz W, ed. Trace Elements in Human and Animal Nutrition. Orlando: Academic Press, 1986, 420-7.

[15] Varo P, Lahelma O, Nuurtamo M, Saari E, Koivistoinen P. Mineral element composition of Finnish foods. Acta Agricul Scand 1980; suppl. 22: 89-113.

[16] Roe DA, McCormick DB, Lin R. Effects of riboflavin on boric acid toxicity. J Pharmaceut Sci 1972; 61: 1081-5.

[17] Passwater RA, Cranton EM. Trace Elements, Hair Analysis and Nutrition. New Canaan, CT: Keats, 1983.

[18] Kutsky RJ. Handbook of Vitamins, Minerals & Hormones, 2nd edn. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1981.

[19] Rajagopalan KV. Molybdenum. In: Frieden E, ed. Biochemistry of the Essential Ultratrace Elements. New York: Plenum Press, 1984.

[20] Monro J. Food-induced migraine. In: Brostoff J, Challacombe SJ, eds. Food Allergy and Intolerance. London: Bailliere Tindall, 1987.

[21] Lehninger AL. Biochemistry, 2nd edn. New York: Worth, 1975.

[22] Harper HA. Review of Physiological Chemistry, 15th edn. Los Altos, California: Lange Medical Publications, 1975.


By MARGARET MOSS MA (Cantab) UCTD (Manchester) DIP ION

15E Mauldeth Close, Heaton Mersey, Stockport, Cheshire SK4 3NP, UK