Perhaps the most controversial use of vitamin C supplementation is the treatment of cancer. Mainstream medicine has difficulty accepting the possibility that vitamin C, as well as other nutrients, may offer therapeutic benefits to cancer patients. The first rule of scientific thinking is to have an open mind, yet most mainstream medical people react “unscientifically” when asked about nutritional supplements.
In 1976, Dr. Linus Pauling, one of the greatest scientists of the twentieth century and a two-time Nobel Prize winner, brought vitamin C into the limelight by reporting the results of a study he conducted along with Dr. Ewan Cameron. Pauling and Cameron gave terminally ill cancer patients 10 grams of vitamin C per day.32 Of these 100 terminally ill patients, 16 survived more than one year. Now, this survival percentage may not seem that significant until you look at the survival rate in the control group of 1,000 subjects. Only three patients in the control group survived for more than 1 year.
Cameron followed up the original study with another and reported similarly impressive results. The study included 1,826 “incurable” patients. Of these patients, 294 received high dosage vitamin C supplementation (10 grams per day). The remaining 1,532 patients served as controls. In analyzing the data, the researchers found that “the ascorbate supplemented patients had an overall survival time (343 days) almost double that of the controls (180 days.)
As promising as these results are, critics quickly pointed out that the studies were not double-blind, indicating a placebo effect could have been responsible for the benefit noted. Double-blind studies designed to examine (some say disprove) Pauling’s contentions have not shown vitamin C to produce any greater benefit than a placebo. At this time it appears that vitamin C is most effective at preventing rather than curing cancer. Nonetheless, in my opinion, vitamin C supplementation is indicated in cancer patients because of the increased frequency of low or marginal vitamin C status in cancer patients and because of possible enhancement of immune function.
Individuals with higher dietary intakes of vitamins C and E, selenium, and carotenes have a much lower risk for developing cataracts and macular degeneration than do individuals with lower intakes. In addition to preventing cataracts, these anti-oxidant nutrients may offer some therapeutic effects as well. Several clinical studies demonstrate that vitamin C supplementation halts cataract progression and, in some cases, significantly improves vision. For example, in one study, 450 patients with cataracts were placed on a nutritional program that included 1 gram of vitamin C per day, resulting in a significant reduction in cataract development. Though similar patients had previously required surgery within 4 years, in the vitamin C treated patients only a small handful of patients required surgery and in most patients there was no evidence that the cataract progressed over the 11-year period of the study.
The dosage of vitamin C necessary to increase the vitamin C content of the lens is 1,000 milligrams. The lens of the eye and active tissues of the body require higher concentrations of vitamin C. The level of vitamin C in the blood is about 0.5 milligrams per deciliter, whereas in the adrenal and pituitary glands, the level is 100 times this concentration. In the liver, spleen, and lens of the eye it is concentrated by at least a factor of 20. In order to maintain these concentrations in these tissues, the body has to generate enormous amounts of energy to pull vitamin C out of blood against this tremendous gradient. By keeping blood vitamin C levels elevated, you help your body concentrate the vitamin C into active tissue by reducing the gradient. That is probably why dosages of at least 1,000 milligrams are required to increase the vitamin C content of the lens.