Vitamin C Versus the Big C
Cancer-preventive nutrient shows new promise for treatment.
Appearing in pills, capsules, liquids, lozenges, tangy chewables and scoopable crystals, vitamin C is the ubiquitous superstar nutrient with health benefits that far exceed its renown as an immune booster. Widely recognized as a powerful antioxidant that may be an important preventive measure against cancer, vitamin C’s potential as a cancer treatment—once dismissed by Western medicine—is now being re-evaluated with well-deserved research.
Vitamin C History
In the mid-18th century, fruits and vegetables—especially lemons and limes—were found to ward off scurvy, a disease that had for centuries plagued sailors on long sea voyages. Vitamin C, of course, was the nutrient behind this scurvy protection—but it didn’t get its kudos until it was identified by Hungarian researchers in the 1930s. Soon after, synthesized vitamin C was mass-produced, launching the legacy of history’s most popular supplement.
Vitamin C found its champion in the 1960s, when famed chemist Linus Pauling began challenging the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for this nutrient in favor of higher dosages he believed would be more effective in preventing disease. While the RDA hovered between 75 and 90 mg daily, Pauling was known to take up to 18,000 mg of vitamin C per day; the Linus Pauling Institute now recommends 400 mg daily.
Pauling believed these higher vitamin C doses showed great promise in neutralizing the common cold, supporting cardiovascular health and even treating cancer. When Pauling experimented with giving terminal cancer patients super-high doses of vitamin C intravenously, he found that the nutrient appeared to both mitigate traditional cancer treatments’ side effects and lengthen lifespan. Despite Pauling’s acclaim, his vitamin C cancer research was largely disregarded.
Decades later, in January 2007, the FDA finally acknowledged the legitimacy of Pauling’s approach by approving the Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s investigation of high-dose intravenous vitamin C and its effects on cancer patients. Meanwhile, Korean researchers undertaking a similar investigation reported in February 2007 that cancer patients receiving mega-dose intravenous vitamin C were found to show greater physical, emotional and cognitive function, while reporting less fatigue, nausea, vomiting, pain and appetite loss.
Intravenous megadose vitamin C is an entirely different league from supplementation—but many studies suggest that vitamin C supplements may help prevent cancer.
In the Nurse’s Health Study, premenopausal women with a family history of breast cancer who consumed an average of 205 mg of vitamin C every day (well above the RDA) experienced a 63% lower risk of breast cancer than women who consumed an average of 70 mg a day. A prospective study that tracked 870 men over 25 years found that those who consumed over 83 mg of vitamin C daily had a 64% reduction in lung cancer. University of California researchers tracking 12,000 adults for an average of ten years found that those with the highest vitamin C intake had the lowest death rates for all cancers. Finally, an analysis of 90 separate studies found that vitamin C and vitamin C-rich foods offered significant protective effects against various forms of cancer.
Vitamin C is already a supplement superstar—but, as it turns out, we may just be beginning to understand its far-reaching health benefits.