Research about vitamin C and chemotherapy misleads cancer patients

Down the Primrose(hip) Path

You know what the good folks of the mainstream medical community really hate? They hate the idea that vitamin C therapy might turn out to be a very effective way to fight cancer.

Can you blame them? When you’ve devoted your career to the idea that expensive chemicals are the only valid treatment for disease, you sure don’t want to see some “natural” therapy come along and eek out a thin sliver of the cancer business.

That’s why we’ll continue to see research devoted to throwing a wet blanket on all this talk about cancer-fighting benefits of vitamin C. But let’s not ignore this research, because it only helps illustrate how weak the negative arguments really are.

Fear factor

“Vitamin C Reduces Benefits of Cancer Drugs”

That was a typical headline you might have seen in the wide reporting of a recent study from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Now, Sloan-Kettering is a “world-renowned organization dedicated to the progressive control and cure of cancer.” So when Sloan-Kettering researchers offer up findings they say “support the hypothesis” that vitamin C supplementation may have a detrimental affect on cancer treatment, people are going to sit up and listen.

And I hope they listen very closely – close enough to hear the hogwash.

First of all, this old argument that antioxidants disrupt chemotherapy has one major flaw: diet. Chemotherapy creates free radicals that attack cancer cells. Antioxidants (the argument goes) subvert chemotherapy by subverting free radicals. So let’s say your diet consists of a large variety of whole, fresh fruits and vegetables. A diet like that will be abundant in antioxidants. So during chemotherapy, should you change your diet and eat all your meals at McDonald’s to avoid antioxidant intake?

It’s preposterous.

Mighty thin stuff

The Sloan Kettering study is actually a two-parter. In part one, a lab study, researchers exposed cancer cells to DHA (which they say is the form of vitamin C that reaches cells) while other cancer cells were unexposed. When several types of cancer drugs were applied to the cells, the drugs were less effective in killing DHA-treated cells. In part two, mice induced with cancer were given vitamin C, then chemotherapy, which was less effective compared to mice that were not given vitamin C.

Okay, let’s start with the mouse, which is one of many animals whose bodies naturally produce vitamin C. You and I, our bodies don’t produce vitamin C. But mice do, so any vitamin C study involving mice really has no bearing at all on what vitamin C does in a human body.

In an editorial in The Gazette (a Montreal newspaper), McGill University cancer researcher L. John Hoffer, M.D., shot down part one of the SK research, noting that DHA was mixed with cells “in a concentration that never exists in nature.”

Dr. Hoffer goes on to note the 23 studies in which vitamin C has inhibited or killed cancer cells. In 13 of those studies, vitamin C (sometimes coupled with other antioxidants) actually INCREASED the efficacy of chemotherapy. Some of those studies also showed that noncancerous cells were protected.

In addition, Dr. Hoffer cites nearly 20 clinical trials in which antioxidant supplementation didn’t compromise chemotherapy, while several trials showed a clear benefit.

And the slammer: In one study where vitamin C improved chemo efficacy, added DHA decreased the benefit.

Dr. Hoffer closes his editorial with a comment that I hope reaches every editor who OK’d a headline about vitamin C reducing chemo benefits: “Flawed reports…alarm and mislead patients and can undermine the credibility of the serious and valid clinical research that is so necessary to improve cancer therapy.”

“Vitamin C Antagonizes the Cytotoxic Effects of Antineoplastic Drugs” Cancer Research, Vol. 68, No. 19, 10/1/08, “Jury Still Out on the Effect of Vitamin C on Chemotherapy” L. John Hoffer, The Gazette, 10/7/08,