Scientists find reason behind low vitamin c levels and accelerated leukaemia

Posted by Andrea Hogan on 21st August 2017

American scientists have discovered a reason why low vitamin C levels may speed up the development of leukaemia.

Low levels of vitamin c has previously been linked to higher cancer risk, but the scientists have now discovered a possible reason why.

Published online by Nature Journal, the scientists conducted a study using mice which can produce their own vitamin c, unlike humans. The scientists genetically engineered the mice so they could no longer produce vitamin C.

Without being able to produce their own vitamin C, the mice had higher numbers of blood cells, reduced activity of a gene that usually supresses tumour development and higher rates of leukaemia. When feed vitamin C their leukaemia slowed.

The researchers also discovered that human stem cells in a dish reacted the same way as the mouse stem cells.

Examining what happens when there is a lack of vitamin c, the scientists found that when there is a lack of vitamin c, the development of leukaemia occurs by way of reducing the activity of an enzyme called Tert2.

Australian experts comment on findings

Associate Professor, David Curtis, Director of Blood Cancer Research at the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases, Monash University, said ever since the Nobel Prize winning discovery of vitamin C in 1937, scientists have explored its anti-cancer properties.

“Low vitamin C levels are linked to higher death rates from cancer and early clinical trials using massive intravenous doses of vitamin C showed some remarkable benefits,” Professor Curtis said.

“But these and other reports were silenced by more carefully designed, yet flawed, trials in the late 70s.

“Now, work led by Sean Morrison will help to reignite the hope that vitamin C can help cancer patients.

“This discovery, which has been confirmed by an independent group*, has direct implications for a broad range of blood cancers where loss of Tet2 activity is an important cause. Vitamin C supplementation might even benefit the 1 in 50 healthy elderly Australians who have loss of Tet2 activity, putting them at a high risk of death from leukaemia as well as heart disease.

“With this improved understanding, the time is ripe for new clinical trials of vitamin C supplements in cancer,” Associate Professor Curtis said.

Associate Professor Steven Lane, Group Leader of the Gordon and Jessie Gilmour Leukaemia Research Lab at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, said the paper is very interesting and uncovers a new pathway related to our metabolism that might be important in the origin and treatment of cancers.

“Most of us accept the link between dietary intake and diseases such as heart attacks and cancer, but these results show us how finely balanced the human body really can be,” Professor Lane said.

Associate Professor Lane however said any suggestion that leukaemia patients should start supplementing their diets with high levels of vitamin c was premature.

“True vitamin C deficiency is exceedingly rare in an privileged developed nation such as Australia,” Associate Professor Lane said.

“Furthermore, nutritional review and support by dietitians is an essential part of inpatient clinical management of patients with leukaemia, and other cancers.

“There is no suggestion from this article that supplementing chemotherapy or other treatments with vitamin C has any beneficial effect to individual patients with leukaemia.

“Rather, this work reinforces the general advice that a healthy, balanced diet containing the recommended intake of essential minerals and vitamins is the best way to keep your body functioning normally, and to recover after life changing diseases such as cancer.”

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