Vitamin C—a deadly fuel for cancer cells

Vitamin C Cancer

Tumor cells would be able to capture a large amount of vitamin C, which keeps them alive according to a recently published study. However, people should not stop taking vitamin C under any circumstances, warn the researchers.

Vitamin C intake through diet is known to be fundamental because of its antioxidant properties, but Chilean researchers have just shown that it also serves as fuel for tumor cells in different types of cancer. After 20 years of research, the work of a scientific team from the University of Concepcion (southern Chile), led by Dr. Coralia Rivas, was published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine.

The study shows that the twenty cancers studied satisfy their important nutrient needs by recycling vitamin C. Coralia Rivas, joined by AFP by phone, warns however that we must not “stop taking vitamin C under any circumstances”. Vitamin C not only prevents scurvy, but it is also essential for cellular energy, collagen production, neurotransmitter synthesis, and helps the immune system, says the practitioner.

Two forms of vitamin C coexist in the body: the oxidized form (dehydroascorbic acid or DHA) which is found in high concentration in oxidizing environments around tumors, and the reduced form (ascorbic acid, AA) which has an anti-oxidizing function. Depending on the mechanism, the tumor cells capture the large amount of DHA around them, carry it inside and transform it into reduced vitamin C, which keeps them alive.

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Research has shown that tumor cells in the breast, prostate or blood, for example, are “capable of accumulating much more vitamin C in them than normal cells,” says Rivas, who has already published work on this subject in 1993 in the journal Nature.

For the scientist, this discovery is “of paramount importance because it means that vitamin C strengthens tumor cells and makes them more resistant to treatment,” confirming previous studies showing that this vitamin “inhibits in a certain way” chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments. “The tumor cell consumes large amounts of antioxidants and, in this case, vitamin C is used to inhibit its oxidative environment,” she adds.

The next step will be to attempt to “inhibit the absorption of a vitamin C transporter located in the mitochondria” of tumor cells, called SVCT2. The latter would be the “vehicle” that would allow mitochondria—essential organelles in the energetic processes of cells—to transfer the vitamin into the tumor cells and thus prevent their death. “Our studies have shown that tumor tissue overexpresses this transporter, while it is absent in normal tissues,” explains Coralia Rivas.

The next step will then be to “develop a research methodology” for treatment, but this will require funding from national or international pharmaceutical companies, says the researcher.

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Emy Torres

Emy holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Michigan and currently freelances part-time for The Talking Democrat.