High Dose Vitamin C and Cancer

Category: Blog

In this article, we will explore the science supportive of the use of high dose vitamin C in cancer patients including a new study from February 2018 that talks about cancer stem cells.
In  2010 paper, doctors at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America, wrote that doctors should explore the use of high dose vitamin C in patients with cancer, chronic, untreatable, or intractable conditions and observe the clinical benefits and/or side effects and interactions with chemotherapy. The suggestion came upon the observation that “high dose intravenous vitamin C appears to be remarkably safe.”1

How does vitamin C kill cancer? Stress

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center researchers published findings on the role of oxidized vitamin C or dehydroascorbate (DHA) in inducing oxidative stress and cell death in cancer cells.
Dehydroascorbate (DHA) is a remarkable compound in the body. It is vitamin C (ascorbic acid) that is “oxidized” or exposed to oxygenation. This oxidation and change into DHA allows for more efficient transportation of ascorbic acid throughout the body. When DHA arrives along the glucose transportation system at a place where ascorbic acid is needed, the antioxidant glutathione converts DHA back into the needed C vitamin. It can almost be paralleled to orange juice concentrate leaving the orange groves via train, arriving at the destination where orange juice is needed, and having water added. This process saves the body enormous amounts of energy hauling water.
The University of Texas researchers say that their study reflects the “rekindled interest in the use of high dose vitamin C as a cancer therapy. However, high dose vitamin C has shown limited efficacy in clinical trials, possibly due to the decreased bioavailability of oral high dose vitamin C.”2
The problem of oral vitamin C arriving in sufficient amounts at the site of cancer tumors is very well documented and confirmed by studies surrounding the intravenous administration of vitamin C.

More research surrounding high dose vitamin C

New research from doctors in Singapore say that in patients given high dose intravenous vitamin C, they have seen that the patients:
  • survived beyond prognosis,
  • had improvement in quality of life,
  • safe coadministration with and improved tolerance of conventional therapy,
  • and when the vitamin C therapy was withdrawn, deterioration in clinical condition followed.3
Doctors in Korea published findings in which they found: “Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) induces apoptosis, autophagy, and necrotic cell death in cancer cells.”
Apoptosis is “programmed cell death.” Autophagy, in simple terms, is the clean up of a toxic environment, in this case, a cancer supportive environment. Necrotic cell death is a means of killing cancer cells by cutting off blood supply.
In their paper that appeared in the Journal of Cellular Physiology, the researchers concluded that “Ascorbic acid markedly reduced cell viability and induced (cancer cell) death.”4
Doctors in Portugal found similar findings in study colon cancer: “. . . results showed that pharmacological concentrations of Ascorbic acid induce anti-proliferative, cytotoxic and genotoxic effects on three colon cancer cell lines under study.”5

Lots of  Vitamin C Support

The list of medical citations supporting the use of high-dose intravenous vitamin C are both numerous and date back to the 1970’s. In the online book High-Dose Vitamin C (PDQ®) Health Professional Version PDQ Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine Editorial Board – Updated Dec 2015 – a brief summary of the history of research is given.
  • The earliest experience of using high-dose vitamin C (intravenous [IV] and oral) for cancer treatment was by a Scottish surgeon, Ewan Cameron, and his colleague, Allan Campbell, in the 1970s.This work led to a collaboration between Cameron and the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling, further promoting the potential of vitamin C therapy in cancer management.
  • Pharmacokinetic studies later revealed substantial differences in the maximum achieved blood concentrations of vitamin C based on the route of administration. When vitamin C is taken orally, plasma concentrations of the vitamin are tightly controlled, with a peak achievable concentration less than 300 µM. However, this tight control is bypassed with IV administration of the vitamin, resulting in very high levels of vitamin C plasma concentration.Further research suggests that pharmacologic concentrations of ascorbate, such as those achieved with IV administration, may result in cell death in many cancer cell lines.

Most recently, this decades-old research has been supported by new studies:

  • Researchers have reported improved survival rates for patients with cancer when 10-75 g of vitamin C (ascorbic acid, or AA) is administered intravenously.6
  • Several recent studies have indicated that intravenous (IV) vitamin C alleviates a number of cancer- and chemotherapy-related symptoms, such as fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, and pain. Improvements in physical, role, cognitive, emotional, and social functioning, as well as an improvement in overall health, were also observed.7
  • The prognosis for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer remains dismal, with less than 3% survival at 5 years. Recent studies have demonstrated that high-dose, intravenous pharmacological ascorbate (ascorbic acid, vitamin C) induces cytotoxicity and oxidative stress selectively in pancreatic cancer cells vs. normal cells, suggesting a promising new role of ascorbate as a therapeutic agent.8
A fascinating study from February 2018 shows how high dose vitamin C acts upon cancer. In the journal Biochemical and biophysical research communications, scientists reported that “as a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C protects cells from oxidative damage by inhibiting production of free radicals.”9


But the real news is that high levels of vitamin C show cytotoxicity (is toxic)  to cancerous cells through generating excessive ROS (Reactive oxygen species) and blocking the energy homeostasis.
What does this mean?
In the simplest terms think of ROS as oxidative damage. You take anti-oxidants to protect yourself from oxidant damage. Here the vitamin C is targeting excessive oxidant damage against the cancer cells, killing them, while they shut off cancer’s high demand need for energy. Cancer needs energy to support growth.
Now here is something more, it involves cancer stem cells. This study identified that high-dose vitamin C shows cellular toxicity on proliferating cancer stem cells. They also demonstrated that undifferentiated cancer stem cells are sensitive to vitamin C-driven DNA damage raising a possibility that vitamin C may be used to target cancer stem cells.
If you are looking for more information on cancer support, integrative or holistic approaches, or would like to learn more about anything cancer-related, please contact us at drmagaziner.com
1 Padayatty SJ, Sun AY, Chen Q, Espey MG, Drisko J, Levine M. Vitamin C: Intravenous Use by Complementary and Alternative Medicine Practitioners and Adverse Effects. Gagnier JJ, ed. PLoS ONE. 2010;5(7):e11414. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011414.
2 Zhang ZZ, Lee EE, Sudderth J, et al.  Glutathione Depletion, Pentose Phosphate Pathway Activation, and Hemolysis in Erythrocytes Protecting Cancer Cells from Vitamin C-induced Oxidative Stress. J Biol Chem. 2016 Oct 28;291(44):22861-22867. Epub 2016 Sep 22.
3 Raymond YC, Glenda CS, Meng LK. Effects of High Doses of Vitamin C on Cancer Patients in Singapore: Nine Cases. Integr Cancer Ther. 2016 Jun;15(2):197-204. doi: 10.1177/1534735415622010. Epub 2015 Dec 17.
4 Baek MW, Cho HS, Kim SH, Kim WJ, Jung JY. Ascorbic acid induces necrosis in human laryngeal squamous cell carcinoma via ROS, PKC, and calcium signaling. J Cell Physiol. 2016 May 22. doi: 10.1002/jcp.25438.
5. Pires AS et al. Ascorbic acid and colon cancer: an oxidative stimulus to cell death depending on cell profile. Eur J Cell Biol. 2016 Jun-Jul;95(6-7):208-18. doi: 10.1016/j.ejcb.2016.04.001. Epub 2016 Apr 6.
6. Kiziltan HS, Bayir AG, Demirtas M, Meral I, Taspinar O, Eris AH, Aydin T, Mayadagli A. Ascorbic-acid Treatment for Progressive Bone Metastases After Radiotherapy: A Pilot Study. Altern Ther Health Med. 2014 Oct;20 Suppl 2:16-20.
7. Carr AC, Vissers MC, Cook JS. The effect of intravenous vitamin C on cancer- and chemotherapy-related fatigue and quality of life. Front Oncol. 2014 Oct 16;4:283. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2014.00283. eCollection 2014.
8. Cieslak JA, Cullen JJ. Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer with Pharmacological Ascorbate. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2015;16(9):759-70.
9. Kim TJ, Byun JS, Kwon HS, Kim DY.Cellular toxicity driven by high-dose vitamin C on normal and cancer stem cells. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2018 Feb 9. pii: S0006-291X(18)30306-1. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2018.02.083.