Vitamin C: Colorectal Cancer Cell Killer?

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Bawa_061115_2A new study has found that Vitamin C can kill mutant cancer cells and halt the growth of tumors from colorectal cancer in mice.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Nobel-award-winning chemist Linus Pauling promoted vitamin supplementation, including high-dose vitamin C, as effective treatments for several diseases, including cancer. His views received wide backlash from the medical and scientific communities. Pauling was derided as a “quack” and his claims were not taken seriously.

Now, a new study published in Science suggests that Pauling may have been right and that vitamin C could be an effective treatment option against cancer in the future.

Researchers from several medical and cancer centers studied colorectal tumors in cultured cells and in mice. They found that large doses of vitamin C killed colorectal cancer cells that were driven by gene mutations. As well, mutated colorectal cancer tumors had their growth halted from the high-dose vitamin C.

Mice injected with the high-dose vitamin C developed fewer tumors than mice in a control group. When they did develop tumors, they were smaller than the tumors in the mice that did not receive injections. The high-dose injections were equivalent to 300 oranges’ worth of vitamin C.

The researchers now believe that vitamin C could eventually be used to treat colorectal cancer in humans. Dr. Lewis Cantley, a senior author on the study, said that the study provides a rationale for further research into using vitamin C for its therapeutic effects.

Vitamin C is often touted for containing antioxidants and proponents have suggested that antioxidants are responsible for the vitamin’s health benefits. However, the study found that antioxidants did not contribute to the killing of cancer cells. Rather, high-dose vitamin C raised harmful free radical levels in cancer cells, causing them to be destroyed in the process.

Cantley is now hoping that clinical trials can be started with humans suffering from colorectal cancer with the same mutations. As high-dose vitamin C is known to be safe, researchers hope that trials can be started quickly to see if the same positive benefits are seen in humans.

According to Dr. Jihye Yun, lead author on the study, there will also have to be research into the other effects of high-dose vitamin C supplementation. “Further study is definitely needed to expand our understanding of these processes. But now that we know the mechanisms, we can utilize the knowledge wisely to get the desired effects,” said Yun.

As well, there is the possibility that the positive effects would not be seen in humans. However, for now, researchers are optimistic that the findings could be the first step towards an effective treatment for certain forms of colorectal cancer.

“Our hope is that our study will inspire the scientific community to take a fresh look at this safe and inexpensive natural molecule and stimulate both basic and clinical research regarding vitamin C as a cancer therapy,” said Yun.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Vitamin C halts growth of aggressive forms of colorectal cancer in preclinical study,” Medical Xpress web site, November 6, 2015;
Kaiser, J., “Vitamin C kills tumor cells with hard-to-treat mutation,” Science November 5, 2015;