June 19, 2006

Cure for cancer by using 500 oranges?!

Vitamin C: Cancer cure?
By Marie McCullough
Inquirer Staff Writer

Is mainstream medical science ignoring an inexpensive, painless, readily available cure for cancer?

Mark Levine mulls this loaded question.

The government nutrition researcher has published new evidence that suggests vitamin C can work like chemotherapy - only better. But so far, he hasn't been able to interest cancer experts in conducting the kind of conclusive studies that, one way or the other, would advance treatment.

"If vitamin C is useful in cancer treatment, that's wonderful. If it's not, or if it's harmful, that's fine, too," said Levine, a Harvard-educated physician at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "The goal is: Find what's true. Either way, the public wins, clinicians win, and patients win."

If Linus Pauling, the two-time Nobel laureate turned vitamin C zealot, had taken an equally dispassionate stance 30 years ago, who knows where the vitamin would be in oncology today. Surely not where it is: a dubious alternative on the fringes of medicine, despite its continuing links to remissions and cures.

This is not about popping supplements. It's about putting high-dose vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, into a vein, which requires needles and trained professionals.

The distinction between oral and intravenous is crucial. The body automatically gets rid of extra C through urine. Levine's lab has shown that, at high concentrations, the vitamin is toxic to many types of cancer cells in lab dishes. But to get that much C into the body before it's eliminated, it must be put directly into the blood.

This may explain the defining setback of Pauling's crusade. He and his collaborator, Scottish surgeon Ewan Cameron, gave C intravenously and orally, and claimed many of their cancer patients lived surprisingly long and well. In the 1970s, two rigorous government studies intended to test their claims gave only pills - and found no benefits.

How could so many smart people, including Pauling, ignore a variable as basic as the body's ability to absorb and clear a drug?

"I don't want to impugn anyone," Levine said. "It's one of these things where somebody didn't ask the right questions."

So Levine keeps on, driven by the still-open question:

Can intravenous C do what even the costliest, most targeted, most effective therapies cannot: kill cancer cells without harming healthy ones?

500 oranges

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