IV Vitamin C therapy- Cancer/Oncology
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is an important player in our body’s functioning. Your body needs this vitamin to form new blood vessels, produce collagen, and heal properly.
When your body does not have enough ascorbic acid, you can take vitamin C supplements as pills or intravenously.
Intravenous vitamin C therapy is used to quickly increase the levels of ascorbic acid in your blood. This can be used to treat severe vitamin C deficiency and burn wounds. The intravenous vitamin is also used off-label to treat infections, cancer, COVID-19, allergies, and other health conditions.
Read more to learn what IV vitamin C therapy is used for, how it is done, and its possible risks.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in:
- The body’s immune functions
- Wound healing
- Collagen synthesis and repair
- Protecting the cells against damage
It can be found in different types of foods, such as:
- Citrus fruits
- Brussels sprouts
- Red and green peppers
Unlike most animals, humans can’t make their own ascorbic acid. Instead, the human body gets its vitamin C from food or dietary supplements.
When people don’t get enough vitamin C from their diet, they need to make up for it by taking supplements. Ascorbic acid supplements may be given intravenously or in pill form to make up for vitamin C deficiency and help treat different health conditions.
IV vitamin C treatment is sometimes used instead of oral vitamin C treatment because:
- Higher doses of ascorbic acid can be delivered using an IV drip than vitamin C taken orally (in pill form).
- Some patients can not take vitamin supplements by mouth (due to intubation, uncontrollable nausea, gastrointestinal tract obstruction, or intestinal malabsorption).
Vitamin C IV therapy is approved by the FDA for treating Scurvy, a severe vitamin C deficiency.
People with scurvy experience a lack of energy, body weakness, fatigue, body aches, swelling in the arms and legs, and bruising.
Vitamin C deficiency is more likely in people who:
- Are exposed to large amounts of smoke (through smoking or secondhand smoking)
- Have gastrointestinal trouble (e.g: Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
- Have certain types of cancers
- Follow a limited diet that doesn’t usually include fruits or vegetables
Patients with severe ascorbic acid deficiency are sometimes treated with high doses of intravenous vitamin C. This treatment is usually short term and lasts up to a week only.
Your healthcare provider will monitor your progress at regular checkups to make sure the scurvy treatment is working.
The treatment of serious wounds from burns or trauma is also an FDA-approved vitamin C intravenous therapy.
Vitamin C is essential for collagen synthesis, which plays an important role in wound healing and new tissue growth. Studies have shown that intravenous vitamin C therapy can speed up wound healing and reduce the need for ventilation in patients with severe burns.
A lot of people hear that vitamin C may be an alternative cancer treatment. Some researchers believe that high doses of IV vitamin C can be toxic to cancer cells.
That’s why some medical practitioners recommend IV vitamin C therapy as part of cancer treatment. However, until now, there’s no conclusive evidence on the role of vitamin C in treating cancer.
Researchers are also studying its ability to boost the effectiveness of other cancer treatments or reduce their side effects.
Preliminary studies suggest that combining chemotherapy or radiation therapy with high dose IV vitamin C has some benefits. It was able to improve the quality of life of cancer patients by reducing pain and protecting non-cancerous cells from the effects of radiation and chemotherapy.
More evidence from larger clinical trials will be needed to determine the role of intravenous vitamin C in the treatment of cancer.
Vitamin C has proven antimicrobial properties; it can reduce the risk of infections and help the body ward off bacteria. That’s why some people receive vitamin C intravenous injections to boost their immune systems and relieve their sinus infections.
Research regarding whether vitamin C prevents the common cold and other diseases is still inconclusive. Nonetheless, some studies showed that vitamin C intravenous therapy could help:
- Reduce the risk of catching the common cold in people who perform severe physical exercises (e.g. marathon runners and skiers).
- Decrease the risk of asthma attacks that are caused by respiratory infection.
Vitamin C is one of the most effective antioxidants and plays a role in getting rid of allergic inflammation.
Consequently, treatment with high doses of intravenous vitamin C can reduce allergy-related symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, shortness of breath, and hives.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is usually a symptom of various diseases, such as cancer, autoimmune disease, and viral infections.
During sickness, oxidative stress and inflammation can cause fatigue. Intravenous vitamin C is one of the most effective antioxidants with anti-inflammatory effects.
Studies showed that vitamin C IV treatment helps reduce fatigue and other related symptoms, like sleep disturbances, depressive symptoms, and pain in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Sepsis and septic shock (persistent low blood pressure induced by sepsis) are life-threatening conditions.
Clinical trials showed that intravenous ascorbic acid treatment could reduce the risk of death and organ failure in patients with sepsis. Therefore, IV vitamin C can be given to patients admitted to the ICU with sepsis to improve their outcomes.
Vitamin C deficiency has been reported in patients with COVID-19 and other acute severe infections. There is some scientific evidence that intravenous vitamin C can be useful in treating infections - that’s why some doctors are recommending the use of IV ascorbic acid as part of corona treatment.
There still isn’t enough scientific evidence to determine that ascorbic acid can work against COVID, but there are theories on how vitamin C intravenous treatment can help treat corona:
- High doses of vitamin C can create free radicals that destroy viruses and bacteria.
- The IV treatment can replenish the body’s vitamin C and antioxidants that are quickly depleted by the virus.
Clinical trials from vitamin C IV treatment in corona patients are still unavailable. Therefore, we can not fully evaluate its effectiveness in the treatment of COVID-19 infections.
Other off-label drug uses of IV vitamin C include:
- Therapeutic use in stem cell transplant patients: Most patients who have a stem cell transplant have lower than normal vitamin C levels in their blood. High doses of IV vitamin C can decrease the complications of stem cell transplant, including infection and death.
- Treatment of lead toxicity: People with high blood lead concentrations usually have low vitamin C blood levels. Clinical studies showed that a high dose of intravenous vitamin C could significantly lower the concentration of lead in the blood.
- Prevention of vision loss: Studies suggest that high levels of vitamin C may help prevent the worsening of eye disease and lower the risk of cataracts in adults.
- Treating Hangovers: Antioxidants such as vitamin C can suppress the adverse events of alcohol exposure which lead to a hangover.
- Boost hair, skin, and nail health: High levels of vitamin C can improve collagen production, which is essential for the hair, nails, and skin.
- Helps with weight loss: Some research suggests that people with insufficient vitamin C can’t burn fat very well. Nevertheless, no scientific research has shown that vitamin C encourages weight loss.
Vitamin C intravenous therapy is usually done at a doctor’s office, clinic, therapy center, or the hospital. A nurse or other trained healthcare professional will give you the vitamin by placing a needle into one of your veins (usually in the arm).
During vitamin C intravenous therapy, a solution of vitamin C is delivered directly into the bloodstream skipping the stomach and intestine. This causes vitamin C levels in the blood to rise very quickly.
If you’re thinking about getting intravenous vitamin C therapy, discuss potential risks with your doctor. High doses of intravenous vitamin C can:
- Damage your kidneys, if you have kidney disease
- Cause hemolysis (destruction of blood cells), if you have glucose-6-dehydrogenase deficiency
- Increase your chance of developing kidney stones, especially if you’ve had kidney stones before
Check with your healthcare provider immediately if you experience any of the following side effects after IV vitamin C therapy:
- Bloody or dark urine
- Decreased urination
- High blood pressure
- Increased thirst
- Loss of appetite
- Lower back or side pain
- Weight gain
- Swelling in the face, fingers, or lower legs
- Trouble breathing
- Yellow eyes or skin
As with any intravenous treatment, there is also the risk of infection at the IV site.
You can usually get enough vitamin C from a healthy diet or food supplements. Intravenous vitamin C therapy is typically used when oral supplements can’t be taken. Although the off-label use of IV vitamin C to treat several health conditions like cancer, COVID-19, and colds is common, more research is needed to prove its effectiveness.
- Intravenous High-Dose Vitamin C in Cancer Therapy - NCI
- Vitamin C | Linus Pauling Institute
- High-Dose Vitamin C (PDQ®)–Patient Version - NCI
- Immunomodulatory and Antimicrobial Effects of Vitamin C - PMC
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