Why high-dose vitamin C kills cancer cells

Low levels of catalase enzyme make cancer cells vulnerable to high-dose vitamin C

January 9, 2017
University of Iowa Health Care
Cancer researchers have homed in on how high-dose vitamin C kills cancer cells. Vitamin C breaks down to generate hydrogen peroxide, which can damage tissue and DNA. The new study shows that tumor cells with low levels of catalase enzyme activity are much less capable of removing hydrogen peroxide than normal cells, and are more susceptible to damage and death when they are exposed to high doses of vitamin C.  

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and helps prevent oxidative stress.

In another study,  vitamin C can target three vulnerabilities many cancer cells share: redox imbalance, epigenetic reprogramming and oxygen-sensing regulation. Although the mechanisms and predictive biomarkers that we discuss need to be validated in well-controlled clinical trials, these new discoveries regarding the anticancer properties of vitamin C are promising to help identify patient populations that may benefit the most from high-dose vitamin C therapy, developing effective combination strategies and improving the overall design of future vitamin C clinical trials for various types of cancer.

The same old tropes are there, from the claim that vitamin C has usefulness in treating cancer to the old ascorbate warriors’ lament that there’s no patent potential in vitamin C, which means that pharmaceutical companies don’t want to invest money into doing science and clinical trials on it because there’s no profit potential. Of course, I’ve written fairly extensively about vitamin C and cancer before, using it as an example of how even a two-time Nobel Prize winner like Linus Pauling could fall prey to bad science when he wandered outside of his area of expertise. Every so often these stories come up suggesting that Linus Pauling has somehow been vindicated and how vitamin C is the greatest thing for cancer patients since surgeons first discovered that some cancers could be cured by cutting them out. Inevitably, I have to throw cold water on such claims. No, Linus Pauling has not been vindicated, and, no, vitamin C for cancer is not all that great.