The benefits of vitamin C are far from secret. You don’t even need to be a doctor to know the deal! Many of us take it to shorten colds, boost the immune system, and maintain overall health. This is even more important around flu season when everyone around us has the sniffles. But what about diseases like colon cancer, the second leading cancer killer in the United States? According to science, it might just lend a hand.
Unlike breast or lung cancer, colon cancer doesn’t get a ton of attention. Yet, about 1 in 21 men and 1 in 23 women develop this disease. The risk also increases once you reach the age of 50. That’s where vitamin C, one of nature’s most powerful healing nutrients, can make a difference. This antioxidant has the ability to act on the processes needed for cancer to develop.1
What Is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer affects the colon and rectum, two major parts of the large intestine. Risk factors include having ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, or a family history of the disease. Do you eat a high-fat diet or smoke? The risk goes up.4
Colorectal polyps also increase the chances. However, if they’re found early enough, they can be removed before they turn cancerous. That’s why regular colonoscopies are so important.5 Here’s how vitamin C targets colon cancer.
1. Fights Oxidative Stress
Unsurprisingly, human colon tumors have high levels of oxidative stress. It’s all thanks to reactive oxygen species that “turn on” harmful enzymes and pathways. In turn, cancer cells develop, fueling the growth of those dreaded tumors.6
But, vitamin C has your back. As an antioxidant, this nutrient has the ability to hunt and kill reactive oxygen species. This protects normal cells from the dangerous effects of oxidative stress, making it hard for cancer to thrive.7
2. Controls Gene Mutations
More than 50% of colon cancers are caused by one of two gene mutations: KRAS or BRAF. But according to the journal Science, high doses of vitamin C selectively kills those mutations. This means it can literally find the offending genes and destroy them without harming normal cells. Researchers think it works by disrupting enzymes and pathways.8
3. Reduces Inflammation
Like oxidative stress, inflammation contributes to cancer. In fact, high levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker, is associated with colorectal tumors. But since the antioxidant properties of vitamin C also mediate inflammation, you’ll be able to manage those high levels.9 10
4. Lowers pH
Even pH affects cancer development. In a 2017 study in Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry, researchers found that vitamin C maintains low intracellular pH in intestinal cells. However, cancer cells need a high pH to grow and spread. With the low pH induced by vitamin C, tumor formation will slow down or stop completely.11
5. Enhances Immune System
Cancer prevention doesn’t stop at attacking cancer. The body’s first line of defense, your immune system, needs to be strong. Can vitamin C help? You bet. Vitamin C works by modulating the immune response. By regulating genes, white blood cells will work harder and better than ever before. The function of natural killer cells will also improve.12
A lot of research is needed before high-dose vitamin C becomes a mainstream treatment for colon cancer. Until then, never underestimate the power of vitamin C-rich foods! Additionally, after turning 50, get a colonoscopy every 10 years.13 You might need more frequent screenings if you have a family history of colon cancer.
|↑1||Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid). University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑2||Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancer. American Cancer Society.|
|↑3||Colorectal (Colon) Cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑4||Colorectal Cancer. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑5||Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC. “Vital signs: colorectal cancer screening test use–United States, 2012.” MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report 62, no. 44 (2013): 881.|
|↑6||Schroyer, A. L., N. W. Stimes, WF Abi Saab, and D. N. Chadee. “MLK3 phosphorylation by ERK1/2 is required for oxidative stress-induced invasion of colorectal cancer cells.” Oncogene (2017).|
|↑7||Langlois, Michel, Daniel Duprez, Joris Delanghe, Marc De Buyzere, and Denis L. Clement. “Serum vitamin C concentration is low in peripheral arterial disease and is associated with inflammation and severity of atherosclerosis.” Circulation 103, no. 14 (2001): 1863-1868.|
|↑8||Yun, Jihye, Edouard Mullarky, Changyuan Lu, Kaitlyn N. Bosch, Adam Kavalier, Keith Rivera, Jatin Roper et al. “Vitamin C selectively kills KRAS and BRAF mutant colorectal cancer cells by targeting GAPDH.” Science 350, no. 6266 (2015): 1391-1396.|
|↑9||Lee, Hyae Min, Jae Myung Cha, Jung Lok Lee, Jung Won Jeon, Hyun Phil Shin, Kwang Ro Joo, Jin Young Yoon, and Joung Il Lee. “High C-reactive protein level is associated with high-risk adenoma.” Intestinal Research 15, no. 4 (2017): 511-517.|
|↑10||Teng, J., A. Pourmand, and M. Mazer-Amirshahi. “Vitamin C: The next step in sepsis management?.” Journal of Critical Care 43 (2018): 230-234.|
|↑11||Aldajani, Mohammed M., Clemens N. Vanicek, Norah Alhazzaa, Taras Lysyy, Raghav Agarwal, and John P. Geibel. “Acute Effects of Vitamin C Exposure On Colonic Crypts: Direct Modulation of pH Regulation.” Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry 44, no. 1 (2017): 377-387.|
|↑12||Ströhle, A., and Andreas Hahn. “Vitamin C and immune function.” Medizinische Monatsschrift fur Pharmazeuten 32, no. 2 (2009): 49-54.|
|↑13||Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|