Cancer and High Dose Vitamin C
If you’ve only ever heard of one alternative or natural treatment for cancer, it’s likely high dose vitamin C. A quick search reveals a near even split between alternative publications touting its benefits and the mainstream calling it pure quackery. The question, as always, is what does science and experience have to say on the subject? Let’s have a look.
How Can High Dose Vitamin C Fight Cancer?
There are several different ways in which a nutrient can help in the fight against cancer:
- Help stop the spread of cancer (angiogenesis).
- Ramp up the immune system to deal more adequately with the cancer.
- Cancer cells’ self-destruct sequence (that all cells have to regulate themselves) could be activated in its presence.
- Oxidize and kill cancer cells directly.
- Conversely, act as an anti-oxidant to mop up cancer causing free radicals and protect normal healthy cells from side effects of conventional treatment.
In the case of vitamin C, it does everything I listed above. Seriously. Let’s go through them one by one.
High Dose Vitamin C Can Stop the Spread of Cancer
It’s said that collagen is to the cells of your body as mortar is to bricks in a wall. While you want good strong bricks for your wall, it’s the mortar that holds them together and keeps anything from getting through.
Similarly, if your cells are held together with a lot of quality collagen, tumors have a difficult time spreading through them to surrounding areas. This is our bodies’ natural defense of “walling off” the tumor. Vitamin C is crucial in order to form new collagen in the body and most cancer patients are low in it.
Finding this crucial information out shortly after Ryder’s diagnosis and knowing above all we didn’t want the cancer (especially the primary tumor in his spinal cord) to spread any more than it already had, getting him on high dose vitamin C was a top priority.
It turns out collagen actually has a host of health benefits on its own aside from blocking off cancer cells. For that reason, we make plenty of bone broth and supplement with hydrolyzed collagen powder as well.
It’s also worth noting that cancer cells secrete an enzyme called hyaluronidase that actually eats through collagen in the body. To counter that, amino acids lysine and proline along with green tea extract, block production of this enzyme. Fortunately, external sources of collagen (such as bone broth and collagen powder) are also good sources of these.
In his book, Cancer-Free (which is excellent), Bill Henderson recommends a product called Heart Plus, which contains vitamin C, lysine, and proline. I’m not crazy about all of the “other ingredients” in it, but it looks to be the same with every other lysine / proline supplement out there. When it comes to considering fillers, a few non-organic ingredients, etc. I will usually remind myself that I do not plan to have Ryder on this product for life, just for a strategic period of time and that the purpose it’s serving is worth the tradeoff.
Boost the Immune System with High Dose Vitamin C
Listening to just about any natural health advocate, you’ll hear the only way anyone can ever truly heal from cancer is through the immune system. Sure there’s lots of conventional and alternative methods of killing cancer cells, but unfortunately, you can’t expect to kill them all.
So, without a high functioning immune system to kill off the rest, sooner or later, the cancer is likely to come right back.
Even big pharma is creating drugs and therapies that train the immune system to fight off remaining cancer cells.
Vitamin C has been shown to increase both the amount and activity level of leukocytes (our white blood cells), most notably neutrophils, lymphocytes, and phagocytes.
When going through conventional treatment oncologists will keep a close eye on the blood’s neutrophil count which can drop all the way to ZERO. They need to keep it above a certain level to stay on the chemo schedule and try to push a drug called Neupogen to accomplish this. We politely but firmly declined, as potential effects of this drug include fatal splenic rupture, leukemia, and stimulating existing cancer cells.
High Dose Vitamin C Kills Cancer Cells
As mentioned above, vitamin C can also be directly responsible for the death of cancer cells through various mechanisms. Here’s the title of a nice little study by Italian scientists published in the Journal of Molecular Cancer in 2007 you probably won’t hear about from your doctor: “Sodium Ascorbate induces apoptosis in neuroblastoma cell lines by interfering with iron uptake.”
Sodium ascorbate is a form of vitamin C and apoptosis means cell death by self-destruction.
If your kid has Neuroblastoma, doesn’t that sound like something you might want to consider?
Don’t take my word for it…
I stumbled upon this study early on in my research, and I must say it made me feel pretty good about giving Ryder a whole lot of vitamin C. Here are a few select quotes from the study – “Our data show that sodium ascorbate killed neuroblastoma cells… We used five neuroblastoma cell line(s) including MYCN amplified (HTLA-230 and IMR-32) and not-MYCN amplified (SH-SY5Y)… Ascorbate (is) selective, non-toxic to normal cells, chemotherapeutic…. Sodium ascorbate is highly toxic to neuroblastoma cell lines”. WOW!
In the study above, it concluded that vitamin c caused cellular apoptosis because it interfered with cancer cells iron uptake.
The more commonly known means by which vitamin C takes out cancer cells is through oxidative damage. An increase in hydrogen peroxide is generated, causing a “rusting effect” which kills cancer cells.
This is actually the same way most chemotherapies kill cancer cells. Except chemotherapy kills or damages ALL cells it comes into contact with. Vitamin C ONLY acts this way to cancer cells, and leaves normal healthy cells alone.
Need more convincing?
Researchers reconfirmed this in a 2014 study published in the journal, Science Translational Medicine on vitamin C and ovarian cancer titled, “High-Dose Parenteral Ascorbate Enhanced Chemosensitivity of Ovarian Cancer and Reduced Toxicity of Chemotherapy.” The author of that study stated that vitamin C “kills some cancer cells without harming normal tissues.”
This study also “demonstrated a significant reduction in chemotherapy-induced adverse effects in patients receiving ascorbate” and “its ability to decrease chemotherapy-induced adverse effects should already make it a very valuable addition to chemotherapeutic regimens.” Those who advise the use of vitamin C therapeutically have known this for quite some time.
Just for good measure, here’s a quote from the study “Effect of ascorbic acid and hydrogen peroxide on mouse neuroblastoma cells,” out of Molecular Medicine Reports: “At higher doses, ascorbic acid significantly killed cancer cells.”
By the way, this study found that even more cancer cells are killed when vitamin C is combined with hydrogen peroxide, which is also a very well-known alternative cancer treatment.
So vitamin C can stop the spread of cancer, boost the immune system, and even kill cancer cells while simultaneously protecting normal cells from damage done by conventional treatment?
Who wouldn’t want you to give this to someone trying to heal from cancer??
Most likely your oncologist…
The reasoning against vitamin C is sound enough on the surface. Since vitamin C acts as an antioxidant in protecting healthy cells, and since chemotherapy is a pro-oxidant in killing ALL cells, the thought is that the vitamin C will protect the cancer cells from chemo. This would make a lot of sense if there had ever been any actual good data to back it up. Or, if there hadn’t been countless studies and statistics showing otherwise.
The History of High Dose Vitamin C
It didn’t take long after the first major breakthrough in high dose vitamin C for the attacks to start.
In 1976, two time Nobel Prize winner Dr. Linus Pauling and Dr. Ewan Cameron, chief surgeon at a Scottish hospital, treated 100 terminal cancer patients who were pronounced untreatable by conventional methods (after they had already received all the conventional methods and were sent home to die) with high dose vitamin C intravenously and orally and compared them to the results to 1,000 people with similar cancers and stages who had not received high dose vitamin C.
The results at the time Pauling published his paper, were an average survival time in the vitamin C group of 204 days vs. 50 days for those who had not been treated. Keep in mind, these were patients who had all been through everything conventional medicine could throw at them and were given days left to live.
Simple enough right?
It seems the vitamin C number went up to around 300 later on as 7% of the patients were still alive when the paper was written, but confirming some of these statistics can be difficult. Pauling speculated that results could be even better with bigger dosages, prolonged treatment, etc.
Soon thereafter, the cancer industry of course came out with their own competing studies, which to no surprise, claimed that vitamin C offered no benefit. Long story short, these studies conveniently decided to omit intravenous administration and only offer oral dosages (we’ll get to the difference later on, but for now, that’s not what Pauling and Cameron did) and used other statistical tricks to achieve the predetermined results they were after.
Since then, there have been all sorts of studies confirming the cancer fighting benefits of high dose vitamin C like those mentioned above.
I’ll mention one more informal study very briefly as the story is quite remarkable.
Dr. Abram Hoffer started out as a psychiatrist who was interested in high dose vitamin C for treating schizophrenia. When he noticed that those he treated who happened to have cancer as well got better from the cancer, he started treating cancer patients. Hoffer eventually met Pauling who encouraged him to track his own results, so he did. He tracked every cancer patient he saw over a ten year period, which totaled 134. All of these patients had received whatever conventional treatment their oncologist had recommended, and many still were while seeing Dr. Hoffer. 33 of these patients dropped out of his program for various reasons, which served as a sort of control group. Patients that followed through with his treatment for at least two months were broken up into two groups: those with uniquely female cancers and all other types of cancer.
The group who did not complete the program lived an average of 5.7 months.
Of the groups that did follow his treatments however, the female group lived an average of 122 months (over 10 years) and the other group 72 months (6 years)! More impressively, most of these patients were 60-80 years old to begin with, meaning many of them were likely eventually passing due to reasons other than cancer.
It’s important to note as well that Dr. Hoffer did give some nutritional advice and recommended a few other supplements as well, but high dose vitamin C was the centerpiece of his treatment.
So to me, this serves as not just a study on vitamin C but moreover a tremendous example of what can happen when you start listening to people who aren’t simply recommending the big three conventional treatments and nothing else.
Will High Dose Vitamin C and Other Antioxidants Interfere with Chemotherapy?
Back to your doctor saying this might interfere with chemotherapy. Here is where that notion came from —
From “Antioxidants and Other Nutrients Do Not Interfere with Chemotherapy Radiation Therapy and Can Increase Kill and Increase Survival, Part I” by Dr. Charles Simone in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine:” “In an article that appeared on the front page of The New York Times on October 26, 1997, Larry Norton, MD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, was quoted as saying, ‘Research at [Memorial Sloan Kettering] showed that large doses of vitamin C could blunt the beneficial effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer. . . . It is also known that folic acid can negate the effects of methotrexate, a drug used to treat cancer.’
The research referred to was finally published almost 2 years later and demonstrated only the mechanism by which cancer cells obtain vitamin C and that more vitamin C was found in mice cancer cells compared to normal mice cells. However, the senior author of that paper stated in a news release on the day of publication (September 15, 1999), ‘It’s possible that taking large amounts of vitamin C could interfere with the effects of chemotherapy or even radiation therapy.’
A single interview in The New York Times in 1997 that was not based on published scientific work and a single research paper involving mice, along with a press release by its author in 1999, led to the erroneous notion that vitamin C interferes with chemotherapy and radiation in humans.
This notion soon applied to all antioxidants as physicians, patients, the media, the American Cancer Society, and scores of websites took the same position without reviewing the scientific evidence.”
There was another study done in 2008 in which they used the complete wrong form of vitamin C which they also cling onto in attempts to say that vitamin C is either ineffective or can interfere with conventional treatments.
The 2007 paper I just mentioned by Dr. Simone (here’s Part II by the way) came to the conclusion that “Since the 1970s, 280 peer-reviewed in vitro and in vivo studies, including 50 human studies involving 8,521 patients, 5,081 of whom were given nutrients, have consistently shown that do not interfere with therapeutic modalities for cancer. Furthermore, non-prescription antioxidants and other nutrients enhance the killing of therapeutic modalities for cancer, decrease their side effects, and protect normal tissue.” Sounds a little more convincing than a few deliberately misleading studies or statements to me.
From all the studies I’ve just mentioned, this next statement should be fairly obvious but it’s worth mentioning. When doctors try to say there isn’t any data on supplemental nutrients and alternative therapies, it just isn’t true.
How We’ve Used High Dose Vitamin C
There are three ways to take high dose vitamin C: intravenous, liposomal, and oral powders.
IV Vitamin C
There are conflicting numbers on how much vitamin C you can get into the bloodstream by just taking oral powders. However, there’s a pretty strong consensus that however much it is, it just isn’t enough to have the type of clinical anti-cancer effects noted above.
Intravenous drips on the other hand works to get vitamin c into the bloodstream at therapeutic levels.
For us, it was an easy decision. As long as our son had to have a port for chemo, why wouldn’t we want to use it for something that was going to protect and repair his body from the chemotherapy’s damaging effects and kill more cancer cells at the same time?
Our naturopath also included DMSO. This is a molecule that really deserves its own article. For now, just know that it’s used to transport drugs (vitamin C in this case) into cells better than they could get there on their own. As a bonus, it also has its own very strong anti-cancer properties.
This is something you need a doctor’s guidance on.
We certainly didn’t want to be the ones injecting something we had no experience with into our son unsupervised. The cost for this did add up pretty fast. Expect $100-$150 per session, 2-3 times per week. Of course since it’s not a prescription drug of some sort, insurance won’t cover it either.
Knowing the benefits, there was never a question of whether or not we’d be able to afford it or how much debt we’d go into to do it, we just did it. It was for our son with cancer and we knew it would help him. It also helped that early on our fundraiser was bringing in a good amount. If you haven’t already, I’d strongly encourage you to check out our Affording Natural Treatments Series. I wish we’d had something like that to go off of from day one instead of figuring it all out as we went!
Liposomal Vitamin C
If you can’t make IV treatments work (or you want even more firepower), there is hope with liposomal vitamin C.
Liposomes are made out of the same material as cells and are used to transport nutrients into said cells. Liposomal technology has come a long ways in recent years and is now looking very promising in raising vitamin c levels in the blood higher than ever thought possible with oral supplements.
In my opinion the best liposomal vitamin C out there today for the money is Core Med Sciences. It’s tested non-GMO and very clean from a heavy metals and contaminants perspective which is huge for us.
You’ll find a lot of “additional ingredients” in many of the other brands. This one does have natural flavors (a term that doesn’t thrill me but can be benign) and a preservative (potassium sorbate, which is generally considered to be the lowest health concern). Core Med Sciences also points out that hydrogenated phosphatidylcholine (what the liposomes are made from) can raise LDL cholesterol while the kind they use, non-hydrogenated, does not. Also, you will find a lot of manufacturers make their phosphatidylcholine from soy, which again, Core Med Sciences does not. While I’m not 100% anti-soy in every conceivable situation, due to its controversial nature, we generally tend to stay away from it with special exceptions for specific purposes.
Vitamin C Powder
Finally, there’s plain old oral powder.
While I made a big deal about IV or liposomal being the way to go, there is one interesting phenomenon that many researchers have observed.
The biggest notable side effect of too much vitamin C is diarrhea. Doctors prescribe their patient as much vitamin c as it takes to get the runs. Then they set their dosage to just below that. This is “bowel tolerance.”
What they’ve noticed though, is that a sick person’s tolerance is invariably many times higher than that of a healthy person, making pretty clear the body is soaking the stuff up rather than flushing it out because it knows it needs more of it. Dr.’s Pauling and Cameron continued to give their patients huge doses of oral vitamin C after finishing the IV course.
Let’s break oral powders into two groups:
- Those in whole food form
- And ascorbic acid
Some will claim that there is no difference between the two. Others will argue that ascorbic acid is merely the shell of vitamin C and lacks all the cofactors that release its full potential found in whole food form.
I tend to agree with the latter. However, ascorbic acid is much less expensive than a quality whole food vitamin C supplement. We typically use both and mix them for this reason.
I’ll also note that all IV treatments and liposomal products use a form of ascorbic acid which I will address below rather than whole food, so one certainly can’t say it’s of no benefit.
We buy an inordinate amount of our whole food based supplements from The Synergy Company because I’ve never seen an organization so committed to and obsessed with clean, non-GMO, organic, whole food, no preservatives, no fillers, no synthetic ingredients at all, etc. etc. etc. products as they are. Plus they do some really cool stuff with researching the electromagnetic imprint, or “life force” of their ingredients. Their Pure Radiance C is incredible because not only does it stay true to all of those principles, but it also blends over ten high vitamin C whole food sources into one powder! I like that because if you’re going for cofactors, you’re not going to miss any with this powder.
Let’s break ascorbic acid into two groups:
- Plain ascorbic acid
- and the ascorbates (sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate, etc).
Long story short, the second group is ascorbic acid with an extra molecule attached. Ascorbate products are generally recognized as superior because they are ph neutral rather than acidic. They also have the ability to stay in the body much longer. Also, some say that ascorbic acid in high doses can cause an upset stomach while the ascorbates do not. The best product of this nature I’ve found is C-Salts® GMO FREE Buffered Vitamin C Powder as it mixes several forms of ascorbates and is tested very clean.
Our oral powder strategy has typically been to mix as much of the whole food form we can afford along with the ascorbate product into Ryder’s juices.
High Dose Vitamin C and Cancer – Case Closed!
To wrap things up, high dose vitamin C performs a multitude of cancer fighting tasks. It’s got a plethora of studies to back it up, and has a long history of clinical success from a wide variety of practitioners. Knowing it was going to help kill the cancer cells and protect Ryder’s body at the same time made it an obvious choice for us.
As always, please read our Disclaimer.
Be sure to check out the Epigenetics, Nutrigenomics & Cancer: MASTERCLASS with Dr. Paul Anderson, the Naturopathic Oncologist who initially started Ryder on his IV Vitamin C treatments!