High-dose vitamin C – Can it kill cancer cells?

Intravenous vitamin treatments are becoming very trendy. Drip clinics are popping up in big cities to boost energy, help with detox and hydrate athletes. Another use for IV vitamin therapy has been with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) at high doses for supporting patients with cancer.  The idea that something so widely accepted as healthy could contribute to better outcomes for patients with cancer is very exciting, but it’s important to understand what the research does and does not show.
Here are some answers to the most common questions I get about vitamin C therapy for people with cancer – how it works, what the research says and whether or not it’s safe. 

  • Will Vitamin C infusions cure my cancer?
    • It is important to understand that vitamin C infusions are not a cure for cancer. Naturopathic doctors use this treatment to ease side effects of conventional care, slow the progression of cancer and improve quality of life. 
  • How does Vitamin C work?
    • Infusing vitamin C for cancer was first developed in the 1970’s by Linus Pauling – a Nobel Prize winner. He found that people that received oral and IV vitamin C had longer survival times than people who didn’t.
    • When ascorbic acid is infused and reaches high concentrations in the serum, it creates hydrogen peroxide. In healthy cells, hydrogen peroxide is broken down by catalase to prevent any harm. Cancer cells don’t have catalase so they are susceptible to the damage (and therefore cell death) by hydrogen peroxide.
    • Tumour cells have a higher glucose need than our healthy cells – this is where a number of dietary recommendations of no-sugar stem from, but that’s another blog! Because of this requirement, the tumour cells absorb a higher level of the vitamin C that is infused. That means more hydrogen peroxide and theoretically, more tumour cell death. 
  • Is infusing high doses of vitamin C safe?
    • Vitamin C has been researched in a number of different trials (often cell and animal studies) and the results range. One finding is always the same – this treatment has an extremely high safety profile. During most infusions, the side effects are rare and mild. Symptoms you may experience with high dose vitamin C infusions are: fatigue, decreased appetite, headache, nausea and vomiting, increased thirst, abdominal cramps.
    • High doses of vitamin C are infused in sterile water – this means there is a large volume of fluid being introduced to the body. People with renal failure, kidney stones or showing low levels of the enzyme G6PD should not have this treatment. Before having an infusion, blood testing is completed to make sure the kidney and liver safe for each patient.
  • Where does the vitamin C come from? 
    • The ascorbic acid I use in clinic for infusions comes from tapioca. 
  • Will vitamin C infusions impact how well chemo works?
    • There were concerns about the vitamin C acting as an antioxidant – and protecting the cancer cells – but with high dose infusions this is not the case. Some studies have found that infusions of vitamin C actually have “chemo-sensitizing” or “pro-oxidant” effects. This means that this treatment option is actually making the tumours more susceptible to chemotherapy, allowing treatment to be more effective.
  • Do vitamin C infusions work with every kind of cancer?
    • So far the research suggests no. The types of cancer that have been shown to be responsive to high dose vitamin C infusions are : lymphoma, glioblastoma, bladder, prostate, liver, breast, cervix, ovary, colon and pancreas.
    • A new, exciting trial recently showed which tissues were taking up the vitamin C. The purpose was to develop a way to track the vitamin C and see where it is ending up following the infusions. The study showed the vitamin C being absorbed by the liver, heart, lung, and gallbladder in mice. Because this was completed in mice, we can’t guarantee the same outcomes in humans but it’s very exciting that a method is being developed that will help to accurately track where the treatment is going.

Do you have a question about vitamin C infusions that I haven’t answered? Get in touch through email or send me a message on Instagram!

Resources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29367703https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24867961http://www.oicc.ca/uploads/patient-resource-iv-vitc.pdf