New research with mice suggests that intravenous doses of vitamin C could one day reduce the size of cancerous tumors in people.
The findings are preliminary and still must be confirmed in humans. And even if the treatment works, it's not a cure but would likely be used in combination with other drugs, the researchers said.
Still, the research does show an unexpected use for vitamin C, which has previously been thought of as a nutrient, not a drug, said study co-author Dr. Mark Levine, chief of the U.S. National Institutes of Health's Molecular and Clinical Nutrition Section.
"There's potential promise that [vitamin C] is part of the armamentarium for treating some cancers," he said. "Which ones? We've got to do more and find out."
Vitamin C has long been one of the most respected of all vitamins, lauded for its supposed powers to treat many ills, from colds to heart disease. The late scientist Dr. Linus Pauling increased the vitamin's profile by touting it as a cancer treatment.
But getting heavy doses of vitamin C into the body is a challenge. Unlike some other vitamins, it's virtually impossible for people to overdose on vitamin C since the body only ingests a certain amount through the mouth and then stops allowing it to build up, Levine said. "The body wants to get to a certain place and no more," he said.
But Levine cautioned that the treatment isn't ready for prime time with humans. "Should patients with any kind of tumor go out and get IV ascorbate [vitamin C]? That's not the message here," he said.