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Killer Vitamin C Revisited in Media





Article adapted from VRP newsletter by Jim English


A study published in the June issue of the journal Science reported that lipid hydroperoxides (rancid fat molecules) can react in a test tube with vitamin C to form products (genotoxins) that may potentially be harmful to DNA. Although the reaction of these products with DNA was not demonstrated, the study suggested that vitamin C might enhance mutagenesis and increase the risk of cancer. The fact that this conclusion is opposed by countless studies showing vitamin C to be safe didn't stem the flow of alarming media headlines implying that vitamin C might cause cancer.

If this sounds familiar, it is. In a letter published in the April 9, 1998 journal Nature, British researchers claimed that 500 mg of vitamin C daily caused damage to DNA. The media responded with a flood of sensational stories reporting that vitamin C caused cancer. Later, when a later study reversed the findings and concluded that supplementation of 500 mg/day of vitamin C and 400 IU of vitamin E had "no significant main effect or interaction effect on oxidative DNA damage," the media were not inclined to share the revised information with the public.


Flawed Science

The Science study is already under attack for testing conditions that don't exist in the real world. In living cells vitamin C is the first line of antioxidant defense, acting to prevent the formation of lipid hydroperoxides. In fact, lipid hydroperoxides can only form when vitamin C levels are depleted. Vitamin C also enhances the effects of vitamin E, another important antioxidant that directly prevents the conversion of unsaturated fats to lipid hydroperoxides.

In order to get a reaction the Science researchers incubated vitamin C (without vitamin E) in a concentrated solution of lipid hydroperoxides at least 10,000 times higher than any levels ever found in human plasma. Then the Science team steeped this concoction for a period of up to two hours. In the body, when and if lipid hydroperoxides do occur, cellular enzymes reduce them to harmless alcohols in a fraction of a second, leaving little time for them to interact with vitamin C.

The conditions tested by the researchers are so far removed from what occurs in the body that, aside from some interesting test tube chemistry, no real conclusions about the risks and benefits of vitamin C can be concluded from the Science article.


Proven Benefits of Vitamin C

In contrast to the handful of alarming reports embraced by the media, the majority of scientific studies indicate that vitamin C is not only safe, but that it may actually help to prevent certain types of cancer, including cancers of the stomach, bladder and colon. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health have become so impressed with the safety and cancer-fighting ability of vitamin C that they have recommended raising the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for vitamin C from the current 60 mg/day to 200 mg/day. The NIH based their proposal on the growing body of research showing that five servings a day of fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C can help to prevent cancer.


Modern Media vs. Facts

While the Science study has little relevance for living organisms, the manner in which the story was handled reveals much about contemporary media. Driven by immediacy and sensationalism, media organizations often reveal an "anti-nutrition" bias in their uncritical acceptance of any report touting the potential dangers of nutrients. Instead of providing balanced reporting that includes opposing viewpoints, news outlets turn for support to a small group of conventional doctors and scientist recognized for their unwillingness to accept any form of proof that vitamins and minerals have health benefits.

The natural products industry is dedicated to providing state-of-the art nutrition that is based on the overwhelming body of scientific data showing that dietary supplements are both safe and effective. While supplement manufacturers are severely restricted from making many valid health claims under Food & Drug Administration law, the media have no such restrictions, and are free to disseminate unfounded claims as truth. In the end it will be up to the American public and concerned health consumers to condemn irresponsible reporting and to demand a fair and balanced presentation of the facts.

For complete list of references, please contact this website: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For more information on the benefits of vitamin C, go to:

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