Vitamin C Makes A Return in the Fight Against Cancer

By Martin Brown

pic1It was thirty years ago that the idea of high doses of vitamin C as a cancer deterrent was first  considered. But in the 1980s, that idea was rejected. Now, in 2008, vitamin C is back  in the spotlight, once again, recent lab tests hold out the promise once thought to exist that this everyday substance—ascorbic acid—might be a valuable tool in our ongoing war with cancer.

In fact, researchers have found that injecting high amounts of vitamin C into mice prevented the growth of tumors.

The idea that vitamin C might help cancer patients was first presented in the late 1970s. That early research ignited a firestorm of controversy. Then in 1985, scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota generally discredited the idea, which had by then taken hold with the general public. Clinicians at the Mayo concluded that vitamin C had no demonstrable effect on the growth of tumors.

Recently, however, Mark Levine, a physician and cell biologist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, took a new look at the issue. In reviewing the 1985 findings by the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Levine noticed that the patients in the study ingested doses of vitamin C. That is significant because our intestine absorbs a very limited amount of vitamin C, and so patients were actually receiving a low amount of ascorbic acid.

Levine and his team tested high doses of vitamin C delivered directly to the tumor site. Testing 43 types of cancer cells and normal cells, they found that the vitamin killed 75% of the various tumor types, while normal cells were unharmed.

In further testing, in which mice who were implanted with pancreatic, breast, and brain cancer cells, researchers found that tumors grew at 40% of the rate of mice implanted with the same cancer cells, but not injected with vitamin C.

Research teams at several institutions, including Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland believe that these new findings are worth pursuing with further research. The results appear to show that high doses of vitamin C, injected into humans, show few adverse side effects. Researchers speculate that this massive dose of ascorbic acid triggers a chemical reaction in the body that produces high amounts of hydrogen peroxide. Normal cells have various enzymes that prevent this amount of hydrogen peroxide from causing damage. But cancer cells seem to lack that ability, and die off in the presence of these high amounts of hydrogen peroxide.

Some in the cancer field are concerned, however, that this research may begin a new round of vitamin C mythology that has no real basis in science.

It’s important to remember, though,  that there is nothing in these new results to suggest that a 500 mg. chewable wafer of vitamin C taken three times a day will help protect you from getting any form of cancer, a concept that people had thirty years ago that has never been shown to be correct.

But, as Dr. Chi Dang, a cancer biologist at Johns Hopkins says, “I hope people will look at vitamin C more objectively, without the baggage of history.”

It’s a point well taken. In the war against cancer, we should never turn away from any solution that may offer a pathway for new tools in our ongoing fight with this deadly disease.


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