Vitamin C & Cancer: Cause or Cure?
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | June 19, 2001

Yet another sensational headline: Vitamin C may cause DNA damage! The implication is that this may cause cancer, adding to the confusion surrounding food supplements. What should you believe? In layman's terms, let's take a look at what the study reported, what it may mean, and what conclusions we can draw.

The study under question was published in the journal Science (1). While very technical—almost to the point of being not understandable by anyone but a chemist—the study examined the effects of vitamin C on specific types of lipids found in cells. Under certain conditions in a test tube, vitamin C can be a pro-oxidant. In other words, it can cause oxidative damage, and that's what was reported in the study. The changes that occurred in these lipids resulted in the formation of a hydroperoxide compound, a substance that can cause DNA damage. The authors of the study speculate that because of the changes that occurred in these lab tests, DNA damage could result if similar changes occurred inside the body.

What does this study actually mean? Look at it this way. This was an isolated chemical reaction that took place outside the cell nucleus, outside the cell, outside the organs, outside the body's systems, and outside the body. There is no indication the same changes would take place inside the body.

This study is contradicted by two recently published studies on the benefits of vitamin C as an antioxidant—one in-vivo (in the body) and the other in-vitro (in a test tube). In a study published in March 2001 (2), markers of DNA damage were decreased in the blood collected from cigarette smokers who took a vitamin C supplement when compared to controls. In another study (3), vitamin C inhibited the formation of DNA damage in bladder cancer cells.

What are we to conclude? The human body is complex. For as much as we know—and we know a lot—there is still a tremendous amount that we don't know about how the body works. While the focus has been on the vitamin C side, perhaps the focus should have been on the lipids. Prior research has shown that it may be the composition and quantity of lipids in the body that may be the actual culprit when it comes to diseases like cancer and heart disease.

It is interesting to note that the authors caution about the use of vitamin C in supplemental form. They speculate that 200 mg taken daily would be the amount that could cause oxidative damage. What they don't say is that 200 mg of vitamin C could easily be obtained from foods. Two cups of orange juice per day would put your vitamin C intake over 200 mg. If you eat a cup of strawberries as well, your total would be more than 300 mg. They didn't caution about that, but shouldn't they if a high concentration of vitamin C is potentially dangerous?

So what should you do? Do what we do at Better Life Unlimited. Start by eating your fruits and vegetables—five to nine servings every day. If you feel you want additional vitamin C, be sure you take a supplement that contains phytonutrients, the substances in foods that help vitamins and minerals perform their functions better. That's a way to build a better body and better health for today and the future.


  1. Lee, S., Oe, T., and Blair, I. Vitamin C-Induced Decomposition of Lipid Hydroperoxides to Endogenous Genotoxins. Volume 292 (5524):2083-2086, 2001.
  2. Schneider M et al. Protective Effects of Vitamins C and E on the Number of Micronuclei in Lymphocytes in Smokers and Their Role in Ascorbate Free Radical Formation in Plasma. Free Radic Res 34(3):209-19, 2001.
  3. Wu HC et al. Inhibition by Vitamin C of DNA Adduct Formation and Arylamine N-Acetyltransferase Activity In Human Bladder Tumor Cells. Urol Res 28(4):235-40, 2000.
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