How High Doses of Vitamin C Have Become the New Face of Cancer Treatment

March 7, 2019 Updated: March 8, 2019

The medical community has been trying to find a cure for cancer for generations — and while they’ve certainly managed to increase life expectancies and improve odds, there’s still no official cure for the world’s deadliest ailment.

According to an article posted by Worldwide Cancer Research explaining the lack of an official cure, the fact that there are 100 different diseases — not just one universal problem — makes it significantly more complex than trying to find a cure for things like measles or polio.

Significant steps have been taken, though. And despite the ongoing lack of an official cure, new treatments are providing a light at the end of the tunnel for many people.

From chemo and radiation to stem cell therapy, doctors now have a host of options to hopefully save more lives. One of those options, though, doesn’t sound quite as complex as the others: An ultra-dose of vitamin C, when combined with other forms of cancer treatment, has been proving surprisingly successful in recent trials.

Vitamin C in fruits and vegetables
Illustration (Evan Lorne/Shutterstock)

What is Vitamin C?

Most people think of Vitamin C as the antioxidant found in oranges. It’s the vitamin that your mother told you would help stave off colds in the winter and decrease the side effects of allergies in the spring and summer, making those orange slices both refreshing and good for you.

Vitamin C has long been considered a key nutrient in disease prevention. Ships used it to stave off scurvy, and even modern medical practitioners will recommend high doses of Vitamin C — usually taken orally through something like an Emergen-C drink powder or a chewable tablet — to keep you healthy when flu season rolls around.

Per Harvard Health, doctors aren’t entirely sure just how much of a role vitamin C alone plays in working the magic that it does to keep you healthy. Other key nutrients found in vitamin C-rich foods, like beta carotene and zinc, are believed to help with overall health just as much.

In recent years, though, doctors have come to realize that there’s a correlation between the amount of vitamin C people are taking and how capable their bodies are at staving off things like oral cancers, muscular degeneration, and chronic illnesses. So they started using Vitamin C in high doses to try and reduce the side effects of cancerous tumors — and while there’s still plenty of research to be done to definitively get an answer on what the effects are, current studies look promising.

Male medical worker regulate the intravenous drip system
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How Does the Treatment Work?

Vitamin C can be administered in high doses in two ways, either by ingesting it — such as with foods or tablets — or intravenously, using an IV drip.

Both methods have the intended effect, as the body simply excretes any excess through urine and it doesn’t typically build up. By using an IV drip, though, the vitamin C can reach the blood stream faster — and studies have shown that when combined with other forms of cancer treatment, everything from side effects to tumor growth seemed to diminish when using the intravenous approach.

Timothy Moynihan, MD of the Mayo Clinic wrote that doctors started trying to use high doses of vitamin C as a cure for cancer in the 1970s, when it was discovered that certain properties of the nutrient seemed toxic to cancer cells.

The initial trials involved consuming the vitamin C by pill form, which appeared to show promising results but ultimately proved too inconsistent to draw a conclusion.

In recent years, though, the medical community discovered that IV vitamin C consumption had a different set of results.

“More recently, vitamin C given through a vein (intravenously) has been found to have different effects than vitamin C taken in pill form. This has prompted renewed interest in the use of vitamin C as a cancer treatment,” wrote Moynihan.

A pair of studies reported by the National Cancer Institute showed that just taking vitamin C without supplemental treatment didn’t cure cancer, but it did improve the overall quality of life for patients. And for those who took the high doses of vitamin C in combination with other forms of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation, there were mixed reactions with certain types of cancers — including improved results and fewer side effects for test patients with pancreatic, lung, and ovarian cancer.

Patients with kidney disease still aren’t recommended for vitamin C therapy, as it has shown to increase the risk of kidney failure and increased complications. So clearly, the new treatments aren’t perfect — and there’s still a substantial amount of research left to be done.

For the patients who have seen improved results, though, these studies have been a game-changer.

doctor giving advice to a female patient
Illustration (Branislav Nenin/Shutterstock)

What Does This Mean for the Future?

Every new treatment plan should always be discussed with a medical professional to avoid any unintended side effects.

For people who are at risk for certain cancers, though, it decidedly seems worthwhile to talk to a doctor about adding higher levels of vitamin C to a daily diet. The potential to see improved overall health and diminish the risk of certain cancers combines well with the typically low risk of side effects from taking vitamin C to make it a no-brainer; for anyone hoping to keep themselves as healthy as possible, this is a great preventative measure.

There’s also a new set of studies being performed in mice that takes a look at what happens when high doses of vitamin C are combined with K3, another vitamin that appears to have cancer-fighting properties in preliminary medical trials, in a 100:1 ratio. Although the treatments haven’t been accepted on a widespread level within the cancer research community just yet, the current trials seem incredibly optimistic — and could permanently change the way that cancer is treated.

The medical community still has a ways to go before they definitively find a cure for cancer, despite the billions spent researching the disease year after year.

Given how promising these current advancements seem, though — and how few side effects they seem to produce in comparison to the treatments that are currently considered the best options on the market — it’s hard not to get excited.