A vitamin with a history – The use of vitamin C in the treatment of solid tumours –

A useful treatment for improving quality of life

F. Douwes, F. Migeod, C. Vollbracht, and A. Wartenberg
Journal für orthomolekulare Medizin [Journal for orthomolecular medicine], Issue 3/01, P. 237-254

I. A vitamin with a history

Vitamin C is one of the most interesting vitamins, not only from a therapeutic viewpoint but also from a historical viewpoint. There have been reports on scurvy epidemics during expeditions at sea, journeys of exploration, and military conflicts since the Middle Ages. In the 16th century it was slowly realized that the onset of this disease could be prevented by eating citrus fruits and fresh vegetables. However, it took two centuries for this to be widely accepted, and in 1795 the British Admiralty commanded that all sailors should receive a ration of fresh lemon juice daily. In-depth testing of numerous foodstuffs for their effectiveness against scurvy and the search for evidence of a causal connection with a deficiency of vitamin C has only taken place since the 20th century. In 1928 Albert Szent-Gyärgyi managed to isolate pure vitamin C. But only in 1932 did Waugh and King recognize that the substance discovered by Szent-Gyärgyi was vitamin C. Vitamin C became well-known primarily through the work of Linus Pauling, the winner of two Nobel prizes, in the late 1970s. In the 1970s Pauling recognized the therapeutic benefits of this versatile vitamin. At the beginning of the 1980s the Linus Pauling Institute in the United States conducted seminal studies which established the use of vitamin C in the prevention and treatment of solid tumours.

Since the beginning of the 1990s intensive research has been carried out in the area of vitamin C therapy. In MEDLINE alone there have been more than 4000 studies focussing on vitamin C since 1990.

II. What contribution does vitamin C make to cancer therapy?

Many cancer patients exhibit a considerable deficiency of this vitamin. It is very important to replenish the body’s own reserves.

Many causes contribute to a deficiency of vitamin C in the cancer patient: cancer cachexia, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, parenteral feeding, depression, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal pain, dysphagia, malabsorption following radiation therapy, increased energy consumption, and poor energy utilization.

Under chemotherapy and radiotherapy in particular the level of vitamin C can fall to minimal values. During these treatments not only is enteral feeding disturbed in relation to the quantity and absorption of the vitamin, but there is also an increase in free radicals and, as a result of this, higher vitamin C consumption. In immunotherapy with IL-2, for example, the ascorbic acid level falls by around 80%. In a combination of IL-2 and lymphokine-activated TK cells, vitamin C levels fall to plasma values of under 0.049 mg/dl (Marcus 1991). Scurvy has been found to manifest itself at plasma levels of 0.021 mg/dl of vitamin C.

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