Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid was first discovered in 1928 by Albert Szent-Gyorgyi. Vitamin C is closely related to both scurvy and cancer. Scurvy is the disease that results from a deficiency in the intake of vitamin C. A person who receives none of this vita- min becomes seriously ill and soon dies. The relationship to cancer is much more complex and much more important in the modern world in which scurvy is rare and cancer is a scourge. It is believed that about 5 milligrams of vitamin C per day is enough to prevent scurvy in most people, but larger amounts are required for really good health.
After many of his men had died of scurvy in 1536, the French explorer Jacques Certier, at a site near the present city of Quebec, learned from the Indians that this disease could be treated by drinking a tea made from the leaves and the bark of the arborvitae tree which was later found to be high in vita- min C. The value of citrus fruit for preventing scurvy was also recognized early, especially by the Scottish physician James Lind who in 1747 carried out an experiment with 12 patients severely ill with scurvy. He placed them all on the same diet except for a few other reputed remedies. Two patients received two oranges and one lemon a day, and the others received cider or vinegar or certain other substances. At the end of six days the two who had received citrus fruits were well, whereas the others remained ill. The ravages of scurvy among the early sea voyages were terrible.
For example, during his voyage of discovery of the sea from Lisbon around Africa to India, 9th July to 20th May 1498, the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama lost 100 of his crew of 160 to scurvy.
The supply of fresh fruit and vegetables ran out and the sailors lived almost entirely on biscuits, salted beef, and salted pork which provided essentially no vitamin C. During the next few months they were protected by using up the supply of ascorbate stored up in their tissues especially the adrenals and spleen. When this supply was exhausted, first in those who had been poorly nourished at the start of the voyage and later in the better nourished ones, scurvy set in. The scorbutic sailor showed lassitude and extreme prostration, swollen, tender and bleeding gums, foul breath, a tendency to bruise easily, internal bleeding caused by broken blood vessels in the muscles and other tissues, weakness of the joints, profound exhaustion, diarrrhoea, and pulmonary and kidney troubles leading to coma, collapse, and death.
Many of the results of deprivation of ascorbic acid mentioned above involve a deficiency in connective tissue. Connective tissue is largely responsible for the strength of bones, teeth, skin, tendons, blood vessel walls, and other parts of the body. It consists mainly of the fibrous protein collagen. There is no doubt that vitamin C is required for the synthesis or manufacture of collagen in the bodies of human beings. An able science writer, George W Grey who was associated with the Rockefeller Foundation wrote the following statement on Vitamin C:
“Recent studies show that Vitamin C is essential to the formation of the colloidal substance which serves as a pliable cement to bind tissue cells together. In healthy tissue, this binding material shows under the microscope as a clear jelly streaked with darker bands of firmer texture, like the reinforcing strips in concrete but in the absence of sufficient Vitamin C the bands do not form, the intercellular substance be- comes more liquid, less binding and cells show a tendency to separate. The hemorrhage or bleeding which accompanies scurvy are consequences of this weakness in the intercellular substance. The cells forming the walls of small blood vessels separate, and through the gaps the blood leaks out. Microscopic studies show that as soon as Vitamin C is administered to a scurvy patient the bands reappear in the intercellular sub- stance and the separated cells once more join into continuous tissue. “
The various manifestations of scurvy mentioned above, emphasise the importance of Vitamin C to the proper functioning of the human body. Vitamin C is not a dangerous substance. In the medical literature, it is described as virtually non-toxic. Human beings are being given as much as ‘l50g, 1/3 of a pound, of sodium ascorbate (Vitamin C) by injection or intravenous infusion without any serious side effects. People have also taken large amounts of Vitamin C by mouth without serious side effects and others have ingested 20g per day for years with- out apparent damage, but rather with benefit to their health. The only side effect experienced with much frequency is diarrhoea. This is due to a low bowel tolerance of Vitamin C initially. Therefore, it is necessary to increase the bowel tolerance level be- fore going to a routine of high daily Vitamin C intake. Once diarrhoea starts, count the number of teaspoons needed to produce diarrhoea. Subtract one from this amount and take the resulting ascorbic acid levels for a few days to build up the bowel tolerance level before increasing the dose. When people are ill the body’s demand for Vitamin C increases tremendously. Vitamin C is found in many foods.
Some foods such as green peppers, red peppers, parsley, turnip greens, oranges, and other citrus fruits, and certain berries are rich in this Vitamin. A six-ounce glass of orange juice contains 90mg, nearly twice the recommended dietary allowance. Other vegetables and fruits contain moderate amounts of Vitamin C. For best Vitamin C value these foods are best eaten raw as Vitamin C is water soluble. Another very important fact is that the human body unlike other animals cannot synthesize their own Vita- min C requirement. To a large degree the body is totally dependent on daily dietary intake of Vitamin C. Because of the destructive effects of the widespread use of synthetic chemical sprays and fertilisers in today’s large scale farming, the Vitamin C levels of commercial fruit and vegetables can be so depleted as to demand the daily supplement of this nutrient. The suppressed immune system so prevalent today in our society can be linked to neglecting the body’s daily demand for Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is essential for optimal function of the immune system. Part of the mechanism of protection against dis- ease is the destruction by certain white cells in the blood, the phagocytes. In order for the phagocytes to be effective in this way, the phagocytes must have a certain concentration of ascorbic acid in them. This fact provides a partial explanation of the effectiveness of ascorbic acid against bacterial infections. The mechanism of its effectiveness against viral infection such as the common cold is not yet known. However, hypothesis have been formulated that the effectiveness of Vitamin C in providing protection against viral diseases results from its function in the synthesis and activity of interferon in preventing the entry of virus particles into the cells. The discovery of interferon was reported in 1957 by Isaacs and Lindenmann.
It is a protein that is produced by cells infected by a
virus and has the property of spreading to neighbouring cells and changing them in such a way as to enable them to resist infection. In this way, interferon ameliorates the disease. Vitamin C has only rather small value in providing protection against the common cold, when it is taken in small amounts. But it has rather greater value when taken in large amounts. The amount of protection in- creases with increase in the amount of ingested Vitamin C, and becomes almost complete with 4,000mg to 10,000mg per day taken at the immediate onset of the cold as recommended by Dr Irwin Stone. From experience this is almost a 100% protection against common cold. Such high intake of Vitamin C is best taken on divided doses throughout the day. in 1954 and 1959 Dr W J McCormick, a Canadian physician formulated the hypothesis that cancer is a collagen dis- ease, secondary to a defiency in Vita- min C (as stated earlier collagen can only be produced when sufficient levels of Vitamin C are present in the human body).
He recognized that the generalised stromal (changes in the nature of the tissues) changes of scurvy are identical with the local stromal changes ob- served in the immediate vicinity of invading cancerous cells. He surmised that the nutrient (Vitamin C) that is known to be preventing such generalized changes in scurvy might have similar effects in cancer. The evidence that cancer patients are almost invariably depleted of vitamin C Ieant support to this view. In advanced human cancer the pre- mortal features (signs and symptoms before death) of anaemia, cachexia, extreme Iassitude, hemorrhages, ulceration, susceptibility to infections and ab- normally low tissue plasma, and leucocyte (white blood cells) ascorbate levels with terminal adrenal failure are virtually identical with the pre-mortal features of advanced human scurvy. All of these facts support the conclusion that Vita- min C is intimately involved in cancer as well as in scurvy.
Normally, healthy cells are arranged in a definite, organised structure to form tissues. They only divide to make a new cell when the need arises. Sometimes, a cell will mutate and disobey the rules. This is most often caused by free radical damage to the cell, which is why we hear so much these days about antioxidants such as Vitamin A, C, E and Beta Carotene. These Vitamins neutralize the free radicals and slow their progress. This mutation of an individual cell or two probably happens to all of us every day. When a mutated cell has the ability to replicate itself with disregard to the tissue structure, this is a tumour. We have two basic lines of defense against tumour growth, both involving Vitamin C. The first is our immune system. Even after the most successful surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, some cancer cells are bound to remain. It is our immune system that will hunt down these cells and destroy them. Vitamin C is required for our immune systems to generate and mobilize the specialized cells that fight cancer and infections too. The more stress your system is under, the more Vitamin C is needed, if it is available. If it isn’t available, the disease will not be successfully contained.
Secondly, there is an intercellular cement, or ground substance, that holds our cells together properly to form the integrity of our tissues. Dr Ewan Cameron theorized that cancer cells excrete a substance, hyaluronidase, that breaks down the collagen and fibres that make up the structure of this ground substance which creates the space needed for tumour growth. Vitamin C is required for the development of collagen and this fibrous material.
Since Vitamin C is required for the synthesis of collagen, increasing the in- take of this vitamin would cause more collagen fibrils to be made, further strengthening the intercellular cement, which in turn gives integrity to the immediate vicinity surrounding the tumour. Thus hyaluronidase will be inhibited in its work of weakening the ground cement, denying the tumour space to grow through. Accordingly, this will restrict and suffocate the growing tumour. The above mechanism can only be activated when Vitamin C is given at high enough levels. For many cancer patients the administration of Vitamin C seems to improve the state of well being as measured by improved appetite, in- creased mental alertness, decreased requirement of painkilling drugs, and other clinical criteria.
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