Ascorbic acid, which is more commonly known as Vitamin C, has been a rage in the world of medical sciences since the 1970s as an alternative treatment for cancer symptoms. Human beings lack the enzymes that are required to make Vitamin C, and therefore we derive it from foods such as oranges, papaya, grapefruit, kale, peppers, etc. It has powerful antioxidant properties that protect cells from damage and is involved in a host of functions to keep our body healthy.
Why is Vitamin C being used as an Integrative cancer treatment?
There has been a lot of media hype regarding the use of a high dosage of Vitamin C as a possible cancer treatment. This, however, does not mean that having a few extra oranges a day has the potential to treat cancer since our body is adept at maintaining a healthy balance of minerals and nutrients such that it can remove any excesses in our system through urination. So how can we embrace Vitamin C as an integrative cancer treatment? The answer is simple – the intravenous infusion of a high dose of Vitamin C.
However, it is important to note that high dose IV Vitamin C has not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a means for cancer treatment. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and immunotherapy are still considered the best cancer treatment options.
How does Vitamin C help in cancer treatment?
There are many ways in which ascorbic acid has shown anti-cancer properties, which can manifest itself through many of its mechanisms. What follows next is a list of ways in which Vitamin C functions to abhor cancer growth.
- Antioxidant to pro-oxidant – Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. Still, it shows pro-oxidant properties with proximity to metals, which were strong enough to kill cancer cells by causing oxidative damage to them. The process is called apoptosis.
- Inhibiting mitochondrial activity – Vitamin C has properties that induce stress in cancer stem cells (CSC’s), inhibiting critical processes that are crucial for the mitochondria to produce energy. Since CSC’s are highly dependent on this energy, Vitamin C can effectively starve the cells from inside out.
- Switching on genetic control mechanism – Research shows that due to gene mutation, stem cells have continued to grow, causing problems like blood leukemia, but Vitamin C has been able to reverse the disastrous effect of this mutagen by switching on normal cell activity.
Can Vitamin C be recommended as an Integrative cancer treatment?
In a study conducted by Mark Levine, MD at the Molecular and Clinical Nutrition Section at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, he and his colleagues found that vitamin C showed pro-oxidant properties in the presence of metals, which can be very very harmful to cancerous cells. Similar studies also showed that a high dose of vitamin C could be used in cancer treatments in two ways: on its own; and in combination with other drugs or integrative therapy.
- Vitamin C on its own – two studies showed that patients receiving Intravenous (IV) Vitamin C showed a better quality of life and lower side effects. IV dosage of vitamin C stays in the blood at a higher percentage and for a longer period of time than on consumption by mouth.
- Vitamin C, in combination with other drugs – studies on IV Vitamin C have exhibited mixed outcomes.
In 14 patients with advanced pancreatic cancer, IV Vitamin C was used in combination with chemotherapy and targeted therapy. In 5 cases, it had to be discontinued due to continued growth of the cancerous cells while the other 9 showed stability with minimal side effects.
In 2014 a study comparing chemotherapy alone and IV Vitamin C in combination with chemotherapy were conducted on 27 patients. The ones receiving Vitamin C with chemotherapy showed lesser side effects from the treatment.
When patients with metastatic melanoma were treated with IV Vitamin C, the results showed no significant changes, and the tumor kept growing at a steady pace. Patients also showed serious side effects in this case.
Does it have any side effects or risks?
- Intravenous vitamin C tends to be well tolerated in patients with side effects that arise in less than 1 percent. Some side effects are mild and include lethargy, fatigue, mental adjustment, and inflammation of the veins.
- In clinical trials, IV high-dose vitamin C was responsible for very few side effects. High-dose vitamin C can, however, be dangerous in patients with some risk factors. Kidney failure has been identified in patients with a history of kidney disease following treatment with high-dose vitamin C. Patients who are likely to develop neck stones should not receive high-dose vitamin C treatment.
- Case reports showed that patients with an inherited disorder called G6PD deficiency should not be given high doses of vitamin C, as it may cause hemolysis (a condition in which red blood cells are destroyed). Since vitamin C can make iron get more easily absorbed and used by the body, high doses of vitamin C are not recommended for hemochromatosis patients – which is a condition where the body stocks up on excess reserves of iron.