Vitamin C Cures. Hoax of Legit? Conspiracy or Quackery?

It's hard not to sneeze without someone warning you to take Vitamin C to stave off a cold. In fact, for decades, Vitamin C has been heralded as a cure-all of everything from cancer to the common cold. Can Vitamin C be used to cure the cold, or any ailment for that matter?

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I’m the last person to subscribe to a conspiracy theory. There are, however, moments when conspiracy and collusion are obviously alive and well when discussing Vitamin C. When it comes to oil or pharmaceuticals, I reluctantly begin to sound like the conspiracy theorists I usually dismiss. One such issue is with Vitamin C, the pharmaceutical industry, and whether or not there are indeed uses for it that are being hidden or suppressed from the masses.

There are two camps in the Vitamin C controversy. There are those who believe that Vitamin C, particularly in very high doses (called megadoses) can relieve or completely cure a host of ailments. These are backed up by studies and anecdotal evidence. On the other side of the fence are studies that “prove” Vitamin C simply doesn’t work, and that claims of anything otherwise are either due to  defective testing methods, flukes, or placebo effect. Pharmaceutical companies tend to dismiss studies as quackery. Of course the pro-Vitamin C camp in modern times was championed by Dr. Linus Pauling, who was a two-time Nobel Prize winner. It’s ashame to see the anti-Vitamin C camp try to bash him.

Someone has to be wrong here.

I’m usually one to land on the side of science and studies, however in this case I tend to take a much more critical look at both sides. The problem with studies is that anyone can do one, and anyone can skew the results however they choose.

Pharmaceuticals are big business. A common phrase is that there is no money to be made in cures. Take a look at Pfizer, who makes tens of billions a year, even in their “off” years. If someone suddenly found a cheap cure for cancer, these drug companies would fight for their survival. There is a good argument to be made that there may be an agenda for pharmaceuticals to issue their own studies which cast doubt on any such cheap cures.

Here’s a short list of ailments that Vitamin C has been listed as helping or curing outright.

  • Alzheimer’s Disease - Lund University found that  “Treatment with vitamin C can dissolve the toxic protein aggregates that build up in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease.”
  • Cancer – Perhaps the most controversial “cure” for Vitamin C is cancer. Most proponents point to the studies of Linus Pauling done in the 1970’s, while detractors point to a study by the Mayo Clinic done after that. Pauling claimed that Vitamin C therapy added nearly a year to terminal patients’ lives, while the Mayo study found no evidence to support Vitamin C. There were enough differences in the studies to argue that the May study doesn’t negate the Pauling study. There are many anecdotal stories of Vitamin C therapy working for cancer patients. A much larger of cancer and Vitamin C links here.
  • Common Cold – This is the most commonly-cited cure for Vitamin C. It would appear that such a cure depends on dosage. Taking a small-dose vitamin C tablet when you’re sick probably won’t do much good. This cure, for example, suggests taking several grams of Vitamin C at the early signs of a cold.
  • E.D. – Ehow.com and webmd have articles on this subject.
  • Gastrci & Esophageal Cancer – An article by David Liu, PHD for foodconsumer.org discusses a study by Journal of the National Cancer Institute which claims Vitamin C, E, and Selenium can, “… drastically reduce risk of  death from gastric cancer (stomach cancer) and esophageal cancer.”
  • Heart Failure – A 2011 Korean study claims that their year-long study of patients with moderate to severe heart failure found that “Those who had low vitamin C levels and levels of more than 3 mg/l of hsCRP were nearly twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease in that time.”
  • High Blood Pressure - Science Daily reported recently about a Johns Hopkins study which claims that high doses of Vitamin C may have a moderate beneficial effect on high blood pressure.
  • Pneumonia – Fred R. Klenner, M.D wrote of his experience in administering pneumonia cases Vitamin C. He wrote, “In almost every case the patient felt better within an hour after the first injection and noted a very definite change after two hours.”
  • Pulmonary Function in newborns of pregnant smoking women – Cindy McEvoy, MD of Oregon Health & Science University Doernbecher Children’s Hospital reported that “that daily use of vitamin C (500 mg/day) by smoking pregnant woman significantly improved pulmonary function tests administered to their offspring at about 48 hours postpartum.”
  • Radiation Damage – Orthomolecular Medicine News Service issued a press release which stated, “Workers with severe radiation exposure at the Fukushima nuclear plant had major reduction in cancer risk when supplemented with vitamin C and other anti-oxidative nutrients.”
  • Sepsis – In 2010, Dr. Karel Tyml and staff at The University of Western Ontario and Lawson Health Research Institute found that Vitamin C could prevent and reverse sepsis.
  • Scurvy – Perhaps the most indisputable cure in this list, scurvy is caused by a deficiency in Vitamin C.
  • Whooping Cough – This paper  by Suzanne Humphries, M.D., goes into great detail as to why large doses of Vitamin C ward off whooping cough.

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The above list is only a sampling of all of the ailments Vitamin C will allegedly cure or ease. Visit the links at the bottom of this page for more information.

It’s natural to say “more studies are needed” to investigate the possibility of Vitamin C’s ability to ward off such a large list of ailments. There have already been hundreds of studies – with wildly different results. Who is funding and performing these studies?

It’s hard to imagine the pharmaceutical industry, with sales over $500 billion annually, would shoot themselves in the foot and subscribe to pro-vitamin C studies that could put themselves out of business.

One issue to consider when reading about such studies is dosage and delivery (oral vs intravenous). A study giving low doses of 200mg orally can hardly be compared to those of patients receiving 100,000mg intravenously. There are also accusations that studies backed by pharmaceutical companies have an agenda.

On a personal note, Jack LaLanne, who is this author’s fitness idol, was a champion of Vitamin C and Dr. Pauling. In his book Revitalize Your Life (pp146-147), LaLanne discusses and praises the work of Linus Pauling. As we know, Jack LaLanne lived a life of vitality and good health until he passed away in his mid-90s.

We’d like to hear from you. What ailments have you treated with Vitamin C? Did you find success with it, or was it a waste of time?

Further Reading

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  • majkinetor

    I am megadoser for 3 years and I also megadose my daughter from the 6th month of life (she is now 2).

    I was taking around 10g per day in 4 doses but now I take 2x3g because I started to experience esophageal pain after taking any form of C (nothing too serious). I give 1g / year to my daughter in 2 doses. This is the dosage for completely healthy state. In stress, I double the dose.

    So far the results are great: I didn’t have common cold once in that period (versus 2-4 times per year before, severe forms lasting for weeks). My daughter never visited a doctor in her life while she attends kindergarten with lots of sick children every day. In her, results are striking – for instance I typically see nasal discharge, I give 1g C and it stops after 20 minutes. Kids tolerability is amazing – while some adults can get diarrhea with only 1 g of C, babies can take several grams without even flatulence. I suppose this is related to their higher number of neutrophils during first years of life that are always on stand by because immune system is immature.

    Any time I have any form of physiological stress that I can notice, C helps. Its basically magic bullet for viral disease and poisoning while for bacterial disease its not magical but it helps too (in case of H pylori its magic bullet again). The dose is IMO very hard to get properly as only slight omission of dose will make its effects vanish or marginal. Thats why I think its important to dose properly some other nutrients like E, zinc, CoQ10, Mg and so on to make margin of error with vitamin C supplementation higher (Klenner graphics shows that you need to be at 90% of bowel tolerance for effects to start but since BT could be as high as 100g per day you can easily not get it right without extra supplements that work synergistic).

    There is nothing as vitamin C when alcohol toxicity is in question. I witnessed people after severe alcohol poisoning getting completely sober like nothing happened using 4x5g dose in 2 hours.

    Pretty much all people around me report some improvements. Those are not miraculous. Improvements are sometimes big, but they are usually subtle and for some harder to notice as in the state of constant well being because of absence of infections and toxin load you tend to forget how it was before it.

    All in all, I highly recommend to everyone taking between 4-8g per day in 2 doses with or without sodium. For optimal effect it should be combined with low carbohydrate diet and Mg supplementation (Mg binds to oxalates and most people are deficient).

  • majkinetor

    I forgot to mention one thing: it happens that people get worse after starting vitamin C megadose and this could last several months. It happened several times to people I recommended. It looks like in some cases it could be herx reaction or toxin mobility. I felt throat scratching during first 2 or 3 monhts (my wife too) after starting megadose, but then it stopped and never appeared again. Keep this in mind when you start and drink lots of water in the beginning. It will pass for sure.

  • MGP

    My husband takes huge quantities of Vit C when he feels like he’s coming down with something. He says that alone, it doesn’t do anything but combined with vitamin D it helps and prevents the full blown course of illness if taken in time with obvious stuff like rest and fluids.

  • Jessie

    YES YES YES. the second I feel even slightly under the weather I pop a few c’s and drnk water laced with sliced oranges and strawberries. Works EVERY TIME.

  • j dinn

    i’ve always subscribed to this for colds, never heard of vitamin C curing cancer. the science i’ve heard goes liks this: your body can only absorb 90 mg of vitamin C daily, anything over that your body flushes quickly through your system presumably taking toxins/viruses with it. bear in mind that vitamins are much more effective when taken with a natural source of said vitamin. j.xo

  • katie

    Love this article! I’m on week three of megadosing to bowel tolerance everyday! I was very sick 6 months ago with severe psychological problems. Candida overgrowth. Severe allergies. The herxeimer reaction was scary. But what an amazing thing to go through. As I got worse in a way I got better. It took me 50 grams on day one and I never hit bowel tolerance. 2.5 weeks later today I hit bowel tolerance at 3 grams! I feel great and hopeful for my future all thanks to C!!!