Vitamin C is a nutrient about which two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, PhD, was passionate. The internationally recognized chemist insisted that high doses of vitamin C can help fight the common cold and that mega doses of some nutrients may help treat mental illness. Pauling himself reportedly took at least 12,000 mg vitamin C daily and increased the dose to 40,000 mg if he experienced cold symptoms. Pauling also had prostate cancer, and said that the nutrient had delayed the cancer’s onset for twenty years. Pauling died of prostate cancer in 1994, at age 93.
Results of studies on whether vitamin C has anticancer properties are mixed. A study conducted by Chinese researchers compared the diets of 102 men who had prostate cancer with 102 healthy men. They concluded that increased intakes of vitamin C and thiamin reduced the risk of developing prostate cancer. (Du 1997) Nearly a decade later, a study conducted by researchers from Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, compared 433 men who had prostate cancer with 538 healthy men and that that those who consumed the most vitamin C were less likely to develop prostate cancer when compared with those who consumed the least. (McCann 2005)
Not everyone agrees. The large-scale Physicians’ Health Study II, which involved 14,461 male physicians in the United States, reported that taking vitamin C supplements did not reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer. (Gaziano 2009) Similarly, a meta-analysis conducted in southern California of 38 trials did not find evidence to support the hypothesis that vitamin C supplements help to prevent or treat prostate cancer. (Coulter 2006) However, some studies show that men who have prostate cancer have low levels of vitamin C and other nutrients. A study from Nigeria, for example, showed a worsening deficiency in levels of vitamins C and E in patients as their PSA levels rose. (Akinlove 2009)
Despite a lack of definitive evidence that vitamin C can help prevent or treat prostate cancer, it is still a superior antioxidant and one that contributes much to overall health. Vitamin C prevents the conversion of damaging molecules in the body, such as nitrates into cancer-causing substances. The vitamin also strengthens blood vessels, is necessary for the synthesis of connective tissue and collagen, and is required for normal healing to occur.
Regarding vitamin C supplements, a group of researchers from the Louis Warschaw Prostate Cancer Center, which is part of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in New York, found that prostate tumors consume a large amount of vitamin C. (Cedars-Sinai website) This finding suggests that further research is needed to uncover the role vitamin C plays in prostate cancer. In fact, the Louis Warschaw Prostate Cancer Center recommends that people not take vitamin C supplements and that the body’s source of the vitamin should be fruits and vegetables.
Akinlove O et al. Changes in antioxidant status and lipid peroxidation in Nigerian patients with prostate carcinoma. Pol Arch Med Wewn 2009 Sep; 119(9): 526-32.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center website. Accessed Jan. 17, 2010; http://www.cedars-sinai.edu/
Coulter ID et al. Antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E for the prevention and treatment of cancer. J Gen Intern Med 2006 Jul; 21(7): 735-44.
Du S et al. [Relationship between dietary nutrients intakes and human prostate cancer.] Wei Sheng Yan Jiu 1997; 26(2):122-25.
Gaziano JM et al. Vitamins E and C in the prevention of prostate and total cancer in men: the Physicians’ Health Study II randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2009; 301(1): 52-62.
McCann SE et al. Intakes of selected nutrients, foods, and phytochemicals and prostate cancer risk in western New York. Nutr Cancer 2005; 53(1): 33-41.