As naturopathic doctors we've all heard about the benefits of vitamin C. Its an anti-oxidant, important in the immune system and also can promote oxidative damage specifically in cancer cells. Finally, some medical oncologists are beginning to take notice.
In a recent study published in Cancer Cell, scientists say that giving patients high doses of intravenous vitamin C during treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation may actually weaken cancer cells and make them more vulnerable to the effects of these treatments.
The study was designed to determine if high dose vitamin C was safe. They treated 11 people with an aggressive brain tumour called glioblastoma with intravenous high dose vitamin C three times per week for 2 months. The dose increased gradually as the patients underwent radiation therapy. There were no side effects or adverse symptoms associated with the vitamin infusions, only those normally associated with radiation and chemotherapy. Although the study wasn't designed to look at effectiveness, the scientists noted that the survival rate for these terminal patients was drastically increased.
Another study tested the high dose intravenous vitamin C in a group of 14 people with non-small cell lung cancer. So far, 93% of the patients receiving the vitamin C infusions are responding to chemo and radiation compared to 40% who usually do. Also, in those who were treated with the vitamin C, more than 30% are showing signs of their tutors shrinking compared to a normal rate of 15-19% with radiation and chemotherapy alone.
So why don't we just drink more orange juice? Take a couple vitamin C tablets?
Intravenous vitamin C treatments are 800-1000 times more than the amount found in a supplement product or food source. Our bodies cannot absorb enough through the digestive tract and high doses of oral vitamin C often causes diarrhea. By administering Vitamin C to the bloodstream it can achieve high enough serum concentrations to stress cancer cells.
High dose IV vitamin C treatments should be administered by a licensed naturopathic doctor that is experienced with IV therapies. A full naturopathic assessment must be completed prior to treatment and often additional laboratory tests are required before commencing high doses of vitamin C to ensure safety of the patient.
These studies are encouraging and hopefully can begin to eliminate some of the walls between conventional and naturopathic treatments. As we can begin to see, many of these treatments are more effective when done together rather than alone. Patients shouldn't have to choose between one and the other but should be offered all the possible alternatives to give them the best possible chance at survival.
Frances Wang, ND
A naturopathic doctor and a mother who loves life, the outdoors and exercise.