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IV Vitamin C

Tom Escott
— By Tom Escott on October 14, 2023

High-dose IV vitamin C therapy is a natural, yet powerful intervention that is a cornerstone in most integrative and complementary cancer care programs around the world. It has been used since the 1950s in the treatment of cancer and is believed by many alternative healthcare practitioners to be a potent anti-cancer agent with the ability to selectively target and eliminate cancer cells without damaging healthy cells or causing side effects [1] [10].

High-dose IV vitamin C therapy is a natural, yet powerful intervention that is a cornerstone in most integrative and complementary cancer care programs around the world. It has been used since the 1950s in the treatment of cancer and is believed by many alternative healthcare practitioners to be a potent anti-cancer agent with the ability to selectively target and eliminate cancer cells without damaging healthy cells or causing side effects [1] [10].

There is mounting scientific evidence that supports the safety and beneficial effects of IV vitamin C infusions for cancer patients, but strong clinical data regarding efficacy in humans is still lacking [10]. Early phase clinical research has indicated safety and that high-dose IV vitamin C may be effective in eradicating tumor cells of many cancer types [10]. There is also evidence to show that it works synergistically to make cancer cells more sensitive to certain chemotherapy drugs, helps to mitigate fatigue in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and reduce toxic side effects [10]. However, further well-designed clinical research is still required to determine efficacy as a primary cancer treatment.

There has been controversy over the years surrounding vitamin C due to a lack of understanding of the inherent difference between oral and intravenous administration [1]. In order to achieve therapeutic levels of vitamin C it must be administered intravenously (directly into the bloodstream via an IV drip) and at sufficiently high doses [1] [2] [15]. It is not possible to achieve the same blood plasma levels of vitamin C and related potential anti-cancer activity when vitamin C is taken orally [15].

With this realization there is now renewed interest in IV vitamin C for cancer. More recent research indicates that high-dose IV vitamin C protocols could be beneficial for patients with a range of different cancer types, especially as an adjunct to standard of care treatments [10].

**History of IV Vitamin C & C**ancer

The use of high-dose vitamin C as a cancer therapy began in the 1950s. William McCormick, a Canadian physician, observed that cancer patients often had low vitamin C levels and presented with symptoms similar to scurvy. This led McCormick to formulate the hypothesis that vitamin C may help to prevent cancer from spreading to healthy tissues by increasing collagen production.

Linus Pauling and Ewan Cameron then built on McCormick’s theory and published a groundbreaking study in 1976, which showed that high-dose IV vitamin C increased the survival times of patients with advanced cancer [11]. Pauling went on to win the Nobel Prize for his work on vitamin C, but McCormick was the original pioneer of vitamin C for cancer.

Despite these early findings, vitamin C as a cancer therapy has a controversial history. In 1979, the Mayo Clinic conducted double-blind randomized clinical trials on high-dose vitamin C, which showed no benefits in cancer patients [12]. This was more rigorously designed research from a respected institution, which discredited Pauling and Cameron’s landmark study.

However, the scientific and medical communities overlooked the fact that the cancer patients in the Mayo Clinic studies were only treated with oral vitamin C. The studies did not necessarily disprove high-dose vitamin C’s potential efficacy as a cancer treatment when administered intravenously. In the years following these studies it proved difficult for scientists to obtain funding for research on vitamin C as a potential anti-cancer agent. Furthermore, vitamin C is not patentable and the mechanisms of action were not clear at the time. This meant that there was no incentive for pharmaceutical companies to finance clinical trials. Studies that were conducted had to rely on government grants or private funding [13].

In recent years, it has come to light that vitamin C concentration in blood plasma is tightly controlled when taken orally, whereas an IV infusion bypasses the body’s control mechanisms [15]. Plasma concentrations high enough to have potential therapeutic benefits for cancer can only be achieved with IV vitamin C. This new knowledge has spurred new research into the potential efficacy of vitamin C for cancer [13].

**IV Vitamin C & Cancer Res**earch

There is growing evidence in the scientific literature that IV vitamin C could be a safe and beneficial supportive intervention for cancer patients. A 2018 review of the research indicates that it helps to lower inflammation, improves symptoms related to antioxidant deficiency, alleviates disease processes, and reduces the side effects of standard cancer treatments [6]. However, there is still limited well-designed clinical research on IV vitamin C as a primary cancer treatment in humans. In general, clinical studies are still lacking on high-dose vitamin C as a monotherapy (without standard of care treatment) in patients that have not received heavy prior conventional treatment and that are not terminally ill [10].

The idea that vitamin C can actually treat cancer has been controversial. However, there are some documented case studies where patients with advanced cancers had unexpectedly long survival times and improved symptoms after receiving high-dose intravenous vitamin C therapy. In light of these findings, researchers called for a reassessment of the role of high-dose IV vitamin C therapy in cancer treatment [7].

New knowledge is now emerging regarding the anti-cancer properties of vitamin C. Recent high-profile preclinical studies have rekindled interest in high-dose vitamin C for cancer treatment. These studies show that vitamin C targets many of the mechanisms that cancer cells use for their survival and growth, but these mechanisms still need to be validated in clinical trials in humans [8].

A 2022 review of the scientific literature summarizes that high-dose intravenous vitamin C has a range of documented beneficial effects including: “cytotoxicity for cancer cells but not for normal cells; improved quality of life for cancer patients; protection of normal tissues from toxicity caused by chemotherapy; reinforcement of the action of radiation and some types of chemotherapy; immune system enhancement; and strengthening of collagen” [9].

Another recent review from 2021 highlights mounting evidence that vitamin C has the potential to be a potent anti-cancer agent when administered intravenously and in sufficiently high doses [10]. Early phase clinical trials have confirmed safety and indicated efficacy in eradicating tumor cells of various cancer types, but strong clinical data is still lacking [10]. Further clinical research is still required to determine efficacy as a primary cancer treatment in humans.

**Potential Applications of IV Vitamin C & C**ancer

A large percentage of cancer patients have been shown to have severely depleted levels of vitamin C compared to healthy individuals [1]. Vitamin C is an essential micronutrient for the health of humans. It plays an important role in the defense mechanisms of the immune system, protects against oxidative stress, and regulates the expression of a wide range of genes [3] [4].

IV vitamin C is reported to be a beneficial supportive treatment for patients with solid tumors and also blood cancers, including:

  • Brain (Glioblastoma)
  • Ovarian
  • Lung (Non-small cell lung cancer)
  • Leukemia
  • Pancreatic
  • Breast
  • Prostate
  • Melanoma
  • Liver
  • Colon
  • Bladder
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Multiple myelomas
  • Sarcoma

Numerous clinical studies have reported a range of therapeutic benefits of high-dose IV vitamin C for cancer patients, but evidence is still lacking that it is an effective primary cancer treatment [9] [10]. The potential benefits are summarized below:

  • Improved quality of life
  • Increased overall survival
  • Reduction in pain
  • Increased energy
  • Increased appetite
  • Decreased cancer-associated inflammation
  • Prevents cancer-associated sepsis
  • Combats infections (viral, bacterial, fungi)
  • Reduces side effects and toxicity of chemotherapy
  • Reduces side effects and toxicity of radiation
  • Augments the cancer kill rate of chemotherapy
  • Augments the cancer kill rate of radiation
  • Kills cancer cells
  • Allows a decrease in the dose of chemotherapy, yet maintains the same cancer kill rate
  • Improves surgery recovery time
  • Reduces post-surgery pain
  • May even decrease post-surgery cancer recurrence
  • Kills cancer stem cells (CSC)

In high dosages, only obtainable through IV infusions, vitamin C has been shown to be a potent pro-oxidant in cancer cells [1]. This is important in understanding how IV vitamin C is theorized to work as an anti-cancer agent in humans. The pro-oxidant effect of vitamin C in high concentrations creates reactive oxygen species (ROS) and produces hydrogen peroxide [1] [10].

One factor that differentiates a cancer cell from a healthy cell is that cancer cells lack certain enzymes. For example, cancer cells lack, or are entirely deficient in, catalase, which is responsible for breaking down hydrogen peroxide into oxygen and water [10]. They also lack superoxide dismutase (SOD), which is required to handle high levels of ROS [5].

Healthy cells with normal catalase and SOD activity are able to handle ROS and rapidly dispose of hydrogen peroxide. However, due to an inherent deficiency of catalase and SOD in cancer cells, high ROS and hydrogen peroxide are a lethal combination that essentially overwhelms and kills cancer cells [5] [10].

Vitamin C also inhibits glycolysis, which is the main mechanism of energy production in cancer cells. It targets and blocks the activity of a specific enzyme (GAPDH), which shuts down the cells preferred way of making energy, while leaving healthy cells unharmed [1].

Simply put, in laboratory and animal studies high-dose vitamin C has been shown to create oxidative stress that selectively kills cancer cells without harming healthy cells [10]. It acts as a targeted weapon to eliminate cancer cells by exploiting their enzymatic vulnerabilities. It also shuts down a key enzyme that cancer cells need to make energy.

While the mechanisms of action and potent anti-cancer effects of vitamin C have not yet been confirmed in clinical studies in humans, the preclinical and early-phase clinical research is promising [10]. Vitamin C may provide a tool for application in both novel and synergistic cancer therapies [5] [10].

**Risks and Side Effects of IV Vitamin C & C**ancer

High-dose IV vitamin C protocols are generally well-tolerated without severe adverse effects, but there is still limited clinical research regarding safety [14]. There are also certain contraindications that are important to be aware of. You should always discuss with your healthcare provider first before starting any treatment.

If you have G6PD deficiency high-dose vitamin C therapy would be contraindicated. G6PD is the enzyme required to safely metabolize high doses of vitamin C. If there is a deficiency the treatment could cause red blood cells to rupture. It is always advised to test for a G6PD deficiency prior to starting high-dose vitamin C therapy [10].

Patients with reduced kidney function, for example in the case of kidney disease or kidney failure, should also avoid the treatment. They may have problems clearing high doses of vitamin C from circulation and it may lead to the formation of kidney stones or acute oxalate nephropathy (oxalate related kidney damage) [10] [14].

Frequently asked questions about IV Vitamin C

Is there evidence that vitamin C is beneficial for cancer?
How is it administered and how long does it take?
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The Best 116 Integrative Cancer Treatment Centers that offer IV Vitamin C

References of IV Vitamin C

[1] Zasowska-Nowak A, Nowak PJ, Ciałkowska-Rysz A. High-Dose Vitamin C in Advanced-Stage Cancer Patients. Nutrients. 2021 Feb 26;13(3):735.

[2] Magrì A, Germano G, Lorenzato A, Lamba S, Chilà R, Montone M, Amodio V, Ceruti T, Sassi F, Arena S, Abrignani S, D'Incalci M, Zucchetti M, Di Nicolantonio F, Bardelli A. High-dose vitamin C enhances cancer immunotherapy. Sci Transl Med. 2020 Feb 26;12(532).

[3] Carr AC, Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 3;9(11):1211.

[4] Belin S, Kaya F, Burtey S, Fontes M. Ascorbic Acid and gene expression: another example of regulation of gene expression by small molecules? Curr Genomics. 2010 Mar;11(1):52-7.

[5] Szarka A, Kapuy O, Lőrincz T, Bánhegyi G. Vitamin C and Cell Death. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2021 Apr 10;34(11):831-844.

[6] Klimant E, Wright H, Rubin D, Seely D, Markman M. Intravenous vitamin C in the supportive care of cancer patients: a review and rational approach. Curr Oncol. 2018 Apr;25(2):139-148.

[7] Padayatty SJ, Riordan HD, Hewitt SM, Katz A, Hoffer LJ, Levine M. Intravenously administered vitamin C as cancer therapy: three cases. CMAJ. 2006 Mar 28;174(7):937-42.

[8] Ngo B, Van Riper JM, Cantley LC, Yun J. Targeting cancer vulnerabilities with high-dose vitamin C. Nat Rev Cancer. 2019 May;19(5):271-282.

[9] Gonzalez, Michael & Miranda-Massari, Jorge & Duconge, Jorge & Berdiel, Miguel. (2015). Increasing the effectiveness of intravenous Vitamin C as an anticancer agent. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. 30. 45-50.

[10] Böttger, F., Vallés-Martí, A., Cahn, L. et al. High-dose intravenous vitamin C, a promising multi-targeting agent in the treatm_ent of cancer. J Exp_ Clin Cancer Res 40, 343 (2021).

[11] Cameron E, Pauling L. Supplemental ascorbate in the supportive treatment of cancer: Prolongation of survival times in terminal human cancer. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1976 Oct;73(10):3685-9.

[12] Moertel CG, Fleming TR, Creagan ET, Rubin J, O'Connell MJ, Ames MM. High-dose vitamin C versus placebo in the treatment of patients with advanced cancer who have had no prior chemotherapy. A randomized double-blind comparison. N Engl J Med. 1985 Jan 17;312(3):137-41.

Creagan ET, Moertel CG, O'Fallon JR, Schutt AJ, O'Connell MJ, Rubin J, Frytak S. Failure of high-dose vitamin C (ascorbic acid) therapy to benefit patients with advanced cancer. A controlled trial. N Engl J Med. 1979 Sep 27;301(13):687-90.

[13] Cantley L, Yun J. Intravenous High-Dose Vitamin C in Cancer Therapy. 2020.

[14] Padayatty SJ, Sun AY, Chen Q, Espey MG, Drisko J, Levine M. Vitamin C: intravenous use by complementary and alternative medicine practitioners and adverse effects. PLoS One. 2010 Jul 7;5(7):e11414.

[15] Padayatty SJ, Sun H, Wang Y, Riordan HD, Hewitt SM, Katz A, Wesley RA, Levine M. Vitamin C pharmacokinetics: implications for oral and intravenous use. Ann Intern Med. 2004 Apr 6;140(7):533-7.

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