New research reignites the hope that vitamin C could help cancer patients.
New research reignites the hope that vitamin C could help cancer patients. PAUL MILLER

Vitamin C may be able to cut leukemia rates and deaths

AN APPLE a day may keep the doctor away and a glass of juice could keep you from landing in a cancer ward.

Research on mice has linked vitamin C deficiency to leukemia.

Two new studies published in the science journals Cell and Nature have figured out how such a deficiency damages the body's ability to suppress blood tumour development.

"Early clinical trials using massive intravenous doses of vitamin C showed some remarkable benefits,” says Associate Professor David Curtis from Monash University's Australian Centre for Blood Diseases.

"But these and other reports were silenced by more carefully designed, yet flawed, trials in the late '70s.

"Low vitamin C levels are linked to higher death rates from cancer.”

This new research could reignite the hope vitamin C could help cancer patients.

Unlike humans, mice make vitamin C in their bodies. So researchers had to genetically engineer them to only get it from their food.

Those mice with low vitamin C intakes had an unusually high count of stem cells in their bone marrow and blood and reduced immune system resistance to cancers and higher rates of developing leukemia - a cancer of the bone marrow and blood.

When the mice with leukemia were given vitamin C, the cancer spread slowed.

At the centre of the discovery is an immune system tumour-suppressor enzyme called Tet2 that controls a variety of processes in bone marrow and blood cells related to the production of new cells.

Lack of vitamin C reduces the activity of this enzyme and this promotes the development of leukemia.

The effect in people was tested on human stem cells and they reacted the same way mouse cells did.

"Vitamin C supplementation might even benefit the one in 50 healthy elderly Australians who have loss of Tet2 activity, putting them at a high risk of death from leukemia as well as heart disease,” Prof Curtis says.

"Most of us accept the link between dietary intake and diseases such as heart attacks and cancer, but these results show us how finely balanced the human body really can be,” Associate Professor Steven Lane at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute says.

So should you rush out and buy vitamin C supplements?

"Clearly such a recommendation is premature. True vitamin C deficiency is exceedingly rare in a privileged developed nation such as Australia.

"There is as yet no suggestion that supplementing chemotherapy or other treatments with vitamin C has any benefit for patients with leukemia. Carefully designed and controlled human clinical trials are needed to assess that.” - Jamie Seidel