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Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements

Excerpted from the book, "Fighting Cancer - A Survival Guide" by Jonathan Chamberlain

Vitamin C

** For anyone seeking to survive or prevent cancer, large doses of vitamin C are highly recommended. However, before starting to take megadoses of vitamin C, you should read this section carefully. **

The Vitamin C controversy: Science and Politics

The vitamin C controversy is one of the best publicised and most fiercely argued in the annals of non-orthodox cancer treatments. Its most famous proponent was Linus Pauling, a double Nobel prize winner: In 1954 for chemistry and in 1962 for peace. It was Dr.Pauling’s view that daily ‘megadoses’ of vitamin C could prevent cancer – and could also cure cancer.

The Independent obituary of Linus Pauling, who died in 1994, ended with these words: ‘His theories on vitamin C have now been largely discredited.’ This chapter will show that this is not, in fact, the case.

Pauling wrote three books putting forward the evidence in support of vitamin C: Vitamin C and the Common Cold, Vitamin C and Cancer and How to Live Longer and Feel Better. In these books he quoted extensive experimental support for his conclusion that vitamin C has a general anti-viral effect which protects against any virus including influenza, polio, hepatitis, mononucleosis, and herpes. In addition he wrote that: ‘... good intakes of vitamin C and other vitamins can improve your general health in such a way as to increase your enjoyment of life and can help in controlling heart disease, cancer and other diseases and in slowing down the process of aging.’ (Pauling 1986)

This is a big claim to make. So what proof or evidence or theory did he put forward? First he pointed out that patients with cancer usually have very low concentrations of vitamin C in the blood plasma and in the blood leucocytes. This lack prevents the leucocytes from doing their job of engulfing and digesting bacteria and other foreign cells, including malignant cells, in the body. He felt that it was reasonable to suppose that the low level of vitamin C indicated it was being used up in the effort to control the disease. By giving patients a larger amount of vitamin C their bodily defences should therefore be strengthened.

This then was his starting point. He also took note of an interesting case described by a Dr Greer in 1954. This case involved an elderly executive of an oil company who had leukemia in addition to chronic heart disease and alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. After having some teeth extracted he was advised to take vitamin C – its healing effect on gums is well known. The man immediately began to take very large doses (25-42 grams a day). He did this because he felt much better as a result (and he took them in tablet form – there is no mention, by the way, of intense indigestion). On two occasions his doctor insisted that he stop taking so much vitamin C. On both occasions there were immediate problems with his spleen and liver and his leukemia symptoms returned. All of these rapidly disappeared once he returned to his vitamin C regime. He eventually died of heart disease but his cancer had been controlled throughout the time he took the vitamin C. Further evidence came from epidemiological studies that showed higher cancer incidence among people whose vegetable and vitamin C intakes were low.

He then established a professional relationship with the Scottish doctor, Ewan Cameron. Cameron had come to the same conclusion by another route. Cameron’s starting point was the known fact that malignant tumours produce an enzyme, hyaluronidase, that attacks the intercellular cement of the surrounding healthy tissues. This weakens the cement to such an extent that the cancer is able to invade. Cameron suggested that one way of defending against the cancer might therefore be to strengthen the intercellular cement. Since vitamin C is known to be involved in the synthesis of collagen – the material of which the intercellular cement is composed, high doses of vitamin C should have the effect of strengthening these defences by allowing faster synthesis. This should protect against the spread and growth of a tumour.

Cameron and Pauling started to experiment with vitamin C on terminal cancer patients at Vale of Leven Hospital in Scotland over the next few years. The results were so exciting that when Pauling suggested they do a double blind clinical trial, Cameron refused. He believed in the value of vitamin C. To deprive any of his patients of this treatment would therefore be unethical. So instead they carried out a controlled study, comparing the outcome of 100 patients who were randomly assigned to Dr Cameron’s care to the outcome of 1,000 patients assigned to doctors who did not believe in or use vitamin C therapy. The result? The patients treated with a daily 10 grams of sodium ascorbate had a survival time 4.2 times longer than for patients who did not take such large doses. Some continued to survive, and survive, and survive. A significant percent of the ‘terminally ill’ cancer patients for whom death was considered inevitable within a matter of weeks or months went on to long term survival. In short, for some patients, vitamin C cured their cancer.

These are exciting results and one would have thought the cancer associations would have been leaping over themselves to replicate the results. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pauling took these results back to the National Cancer Institute in America. They were only interested, they said, in animal studies. But when Pauling applied for grants to conduct this animal-based research he was turned down eight times. Eventually, he made a point of what was happening by publishing an advertisement seeking private donations to help him continue his research. In this 1976 Wall Street Journal advertisement he wrote: ‘Our research shows that the incidence and the severity of cancer depends on diet. We urgently want to refine that research so that it may help to decrease suffering from human cancer. The US Government has absolutely and continually refused to support Dr Pauling and his colleagues during the past four years.’

Eventually pressure built up and the Mayo Clinic was asked to conduct clinical trials of vitamin C. One of these was conducted by Dr Moertel in 1985. His conclusion, which was widely reported in the press, was that there was no evidence that vitamin C had any beneficial effect on cancer patients. He had conducted a double-blind clinical trial that showed no difference between the survival of those who had been given vitamin C and those who had been given a placebo. Pauling was severely critical of the conduct of this trial: ‘[Moertel] suppressed the fact that the vitamin C patients were not receiving vitamin C when they died and had not received any for a long time (median 10.5 months)..[This misrepresentation] has done great harm. Cancer patients have informed us that they are stopping their vitamin C because of [these] ‘negative results’ ...’ (Pauling 1986)

The question raises itself as to why the US National Cancer Institute was so keen to ally itself to a negative result for vitamin C and so slow to support positive findings. Critics point to the fact that the pharmaceutical industry is well represented in the committees and sub-committees of all of the leading cancer-related institutions. If it were ever found that vitamin C was indeed a powerful anticancer agent, then the pharmaceutical companies could say goodbye to their lucrative business. Simply put, there is no money to be made out of selling vitamin C. Other people deride such thinking as paranoid. Doctors too get cancer, they say. They would be mad to turn their backs on any substance that had a reasonable chance of curing cancer. Perhaps so – but since the disputed Mayo Clinic trial there has been no attempt to do a proper study on the effects of vitamin C and it is known that more and more doctors are themselves taking large doses of vitamin C.

Other benefits of Vitamin C

We should note in passing that benefits of taking large doses of vitamin C have been claimed for a wide variety of ailments ranging from wasp and snake bite to meningitis, shock, schizophrenia and diabetes. In fact the list is so long that it would not do any harm to take large doses of vitamin C whatever the problem. Certainly, children with Down Syndrome who have trouble absorbing vitamin C and who have higher than average leukemia rates should be put on vitamin C supplements.

Vitamin C is also a pain reliever. One side effect of the vitamin C supplementation was that those who died while taking large doses had very much shorter periods of pain (days rather than months).

How much vitamin C do we need?

Clearly vitamin C has a wide range of functions within the body and is an important nutrient. But why do we need such large quantities?

This is, I discovered, a question that is based on the wrong assumption. The official RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for vitamin C is 60 mg per day. Most people assume that the RDA is an average intake that they should aim for, or an amount which should not be exceeded by too much. In fact, this is wrong. 60 mg a day is the quantity needed to ensure we do not get deficiency diseases like scurvy. So the RDA is a minimum amount. Vitamin C is a food substance or nutrient. Does it make sense to take in only the minimum amount of a food substance that will stave off deficiency diseases? Applied to food intake as a whole, does it make sense to take in only the amount of food that will prevent us dying of starvation? Frankly, this seems to be an absurd argument.

Once we have established that the RDA is a minimum amount, we should try to find out what the Optimum Daily Allowance (ODA) is. This will presumably be somewhere between the minimum and the maximum amount. But what is the maximum amount? This will clearly be that amount that will lead to toxicity or ill-health. Taking this as a guideline we discover an interesting fact: there is no maximum level of vitamin C that will cause ill-health or toxicity! One suggestion that it could lead to kidney stones has not had any experimental support.

It appears that no matter how much we take we can never reach a dose that is toxic. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the body welcomes vitamin C in large quantities. Secondly, if the body gets more vitamin C than it can handle at any one time it dumps the excess vitamin C by causing diarrhoea, which stops as soon as vitamin C levels become manageable again. This diarrhea-causing amount will vary from person to person. Known as the bowel-tolerance level, it will normally be in the region of 10-20 grams a day for a healthy adult but it will increase sharply to 30-60 grams or even more if there is a viral infection. Going back to Pauling’s argument: this increased ability to tolerate higher levels of vitamin C during periods of ill-health suggests that the body is capable of using more vitamin C at times of ill-health. This leads to the conclusion that the body is using the vitamin C to fight the illness. One measure of ODA would be an amount slightly less than the bowel tolerance level

So, everyone agrees that vitamin C is needed and there are very good reasons for suggesting that a lot rather than a little is what the doctor ordered (or should be ordering even if he isn’t inclined to.) Many people in America and Australia are taking ten or more grams a day just to maintain their health. For children, one expert recommends that they can – and should – take 1 gram per year of life. An eight year old could take 8 grams a day.

Is it really safe?

The drug company Hoffman-LaRoche produced a booklet on vitamin safety in Australia. In this booklet it said: ‘Overall, an exhaustive recent review of the scientific data concluded that vitamin C is a safe substance – even with daily megadoses.’ (quoted by Dettman et al, 1993). To deal with the argument that large doses of vitamin C merely lead to ‘expensive urine’ – ie to wasted vitamin C – experts have made the following points:

The urinary system is very prone to infection and so it actually makes sense to direct an anti-viral and anti-bacterial agent like vitamin C through this system. People who don’t have ‘expensive urine’ may be more prone to urinary infections. The presence of vitamin C in the urine does not indicate tissue saturation. Tissue saturation causees diarrhea. The amount needed to get a urine reading is very much lower than the amount needed to cause diarrhea. The level of vitamin C in the urine is a good indication of the level in the tissues. If urinary levels are low, then so to will the tissue levels be low. High levels of excreted vitamin C are indications that the body’s defences are in good shape. Vitamin C is cheap.

How to take vitamin C

Having established the credentials of vitamin C, it is now necessary to explain that there are a number of different forms of the substance and that they are not all equal.

As straight ascorbic acid, it is very acidic and may indeed lead to intense indigestion. In this form it is also difficult to dissolve in water – however, as a suspension it can be used as a mouth wash. Usually, vitamin C tablets are ‘buffered’ which means they are in a non-acidic form.

Most pro-vitamin C advocates warn that the calcium ascorbate form is not useful. Unfortunately, most on-the-shelf vitamin C pills are calcium ascorbate. A relatively new form of calcium ascorbate – called Ester C – is now on the market which claims to be four times more effective than normal vitamin C measured by its length of retention in the body and its bio-availabity. However, its effectiveness for cancer patients must remain in doubt.

For cancer patients, sodium ascorbate is the preferred form. This can be bought in capsule or powder form. The resulting powder can then be taken with any food ie in cereal or on ice-cream or as a suspension in a drink. Others recommend a mixture of potassium and magnesium ascorbates. These too are available commercially.

Only an ascorbate salt (i.e. Sodium Ascorbate) should be taken intravenously because ascorbic acid itself damages the veins and tissues into which it is injected. Linus Pauling, himself, and a number of other writers prefer to take L-ascorbic acid, fine crystals. This he took in orange juice or with a small amount of baking soda. In whatever form it is taken, it should, ideally, be divided into a number of equal doses. and taken at regular intervals throughout the day. This is to maintain a high average daily level in the tissues.

Vitamin C is best taken with an equal amount of bioflavonids – which are commonly found with vitamin C in nature. They are believed to protect vitamin C and to promote its absorption by the body of vitamin C. In combination they are also effective against oral herpes.

Pauling does warn that anyone going on a megadose regime of vitamin C to fight a cancer should not start with large doses – there is a danger of the tumour hemorrhaging – which can be fatal. Large doses should be gradually built up over a period of weeks, starting with say 3 grams a day and increasing by 2 grams every other day, and should continue until the bowel tolerance level has been established. A dose slightly lower than this should then be maintained.

Pauling also warned that one should never suddenly stop taking it – instead it should be tapered off. He warned that a sudden stop might result in ‘rebound scurvy’. Not everyone believes that this is a danger – but it may be and it would be wise to take precautions.

Lastly, it needs to be restated that vitamin C has the potential to be a double edged sword. If the cancer patient taking the vitamin C is in a defeated-defeatist frame of mind the vitamin C may not be effective. It is important that the cancer patient taking vitamin C should be encouraged and helped to take on a positively resisting frame of mind.

Summing up

For anyone still needing to be convinced I will now present my own favorite statistics in the vitamin C wars:


Age at death

Cause of death

Other information

Linus Pauling


Natural Causes

Advocate of Vitamin C

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi



Discoverer of Vitamin C

Dr Charles Moertel



Anti-Vitamin C Cancer Researcher

I have nothing against Dr Moertel but the chart makes a point that cannot be made in any other way. It is not scientifically valid in any way at all but it has a poetic immediacy that is unassailable. When it comes to living longer, I prefer to take the advice of the longer lived.

Until a few months before his death, Linus Pauling was alert and in good form. He was still working! Clearly, he was living proof of the value of the regime he was recommending. Pauling’s own recipe for the long life – which he published in 1986, is as follows:

1. Take 6-18 grams of Vitamin C everyday. Do not miss a single day.
2. Take 400-1,600IU of Vitamin E a day.
3. Take 1-2 high-dosage Vitamin B tablets a day
4. Take 25,000IU of vitamin A a day.
5. Take a multi-mineral supplement everyday which should include Calcium, Iodine, Copper, Magnesium, Manganese, Zinc, Molybdenum, Chromium and Selenium.
6. Keep intake of ordinary sugar (including brown sugar and honey) to below 50 lbs a year.
7. Apart from sugar, eat what you want – but not too much of any one food. Don’t get fat.
8. Drink plenty of water everyday.
9. Keep active and do exercise but never excessively over-exert yourself.
10. Drink alcohol only in moderation
11. Don’t smoke.
12. Avoid stress. Work at a job that you like. Be happy with your family.

Recommended further reading

How to Live Longer and Feel Better, Linus Pauling, Avon Books, New York, 1986

The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book, S.Liberman & N.Bruning, Avery, New Yok, 1990

Vitamin C: Nature’s Miraculous Healing Missile!, G. Dettman et al, Melbourne, 1993

Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach, D.Pearson & S.Shaw, Warner Books, 1983