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The cancer-vitamin C connection.

The once-highly touted use of vitamin C to protect against the common cold never had much scientific backing, but when reputable scientists begin debating the possible role of vitamin C in protecting against various forms of cancer, the time will come to sit up and take notice.

The intriguing possibility is addressed in the March 20 issue of none other than the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the publication of the U.S. government's prestigious cancer research center in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Geoffrey Howe, director of epidemiology of Canada's National Cancer Institute, is quoted: "There is a protective factor against cancer in fruits and vegetables, and vitamin C is the most consistent factor. The strongest evidence for vitamin C is with stomach cancer, then colon, breast, and cervical."

Dr. Gladys Block of the U.S. National Cancer Institute reviewed 46 epidemiologic studies, 33 of which showed that foods high in vitamin C had significant protective effects against some forms of cancer. Low vitamin C intake was associated with higher risk of oral, laryngeal, and esophogeal cancers. On the other hand, Dr. Regina Ziegler, also of the NCI, believes that the only evidence of a protective effect of vitamin C is found in stomach cancer. Her doubts of broader protection stem from the fact that direct measurement of vitamin C serum levels is difficult, and that most studies have used indirect measurements that may not reflect the actual serum levels.

In any case, the mechanism by which vitamin C may offer protection is not clear at this stage, nor is it clear whether it is vitamin C per se or other factors in foods consumed by persons with high intakes of the vitamin--such as fiber and beta carotene. Dr. Block suggests that such factors in fruits and vegetables may act jointly to protect against cancer.

The possibility that vitamin C may also be useful in treating cancer is addressed in the article. Although similar studies have not shown much to date, Dr. Emile Zuckerkandl of the Linus Pauling Institute, Palo Alto, California, suggests that the megadoses of vitamin C used in these studies are "a valuable adjuvant to conventional therapy and not a replacement."

Although the jury is still out on the issue of vitamin C's protective role against cancer, we certainly have nothing to lose, and potentially much to gain, by a diet rich in fruits and vegetables that contain the vitamin.
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Title Annotation:possible role of vitamin C in protecting against various forms of cancer
Publication:Medical Update
Date:May 1, 1991
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