For many years, there has been an ongoing debate in medical science between the more conservative elements of medicine and either integrative doctors or those working purely in complementary medicine, around the place of supplementation for the prevention and treatment of a variety of conditions.

The conservative, orthodox side of the argument is often quite demeaning with statements such as, “all vitamins do is give you expensive urine”. You will also hear arguments suggesting that “if you eat a good balanced diet, supplementation is of no value”.

For a number of years, I have been a strong supporter of the arguments from the other side, promoting the benefits of a variety of supplements. Although, vitamins and other forms of supplementation do not have the strength (and also the side effects) of pharmaceutical agents, the totality of evidence does support their sensible use.

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There have been a number of doctors in the integrative space who have been promoting the enormous benefits of intravenous vitamin C. These doctors are often derided by their conservative colleagues and occasionally are dragged in front of the medical board for promoting these therapies.

Many years ago, Prof Linus Pauling promoted the benefits of all forms of high-dose vitamin C, suggesting this as therapy for anything from the common cold, to helping prevent heart disease and cancer. A recent study from Finland clearly showed that somewhere between 6 to 8 g of vitamin C, orally, at the onset of the common cold may reduce the intensity and length of this minor illness.

The most recent paper published from the Children’s Medical Centre Research Institute at UT South-Western in the US shows an even more profound benefit from the use of intravenous vitamin C. This study was published in the prestigious journal Nature and has demonstrated the profound effects of intravenous vitamin C on stem cell metabolism. Because stem cells are highly metabolically active, one of their interesting key features is they soak up unusually high levels of ascorbate.

These researchers studied a group of mice who were deficient in the enzyme that produces ascorbate and found that the lack of vitamin C within the stem cell markedly activated stem cell function increasing the risks for leukaemia. It appears that high doses of vitamin C regulates metabolism within the stem cell through what is known as the epigenome. The stem cells that do not receive enough vitamin C have a damaged epigenome and therefore the normal regulation of stem cell function is lost, increasing the risk for leukaemia. A number of studies have suggested benefits for intravenous vitamin C for a variety of other cancers including pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer and ovarian cancer.

Another study from New York released recently in the journal Cell has looked at a very similar metabolic pathway again involving the enzymeTET2 which promotes stem cells differentiating into mature normal cells. It appears that high dose intravenous vitamin C keeps this particular enzyme working normally via processes known as DNA demethylation which instructs normal cells as to the appropriate time for them to mature and die. This is a vital part of the normal wear and repair in the body. The researchers combined intravenous vitamin C with a class of anti-cancer drugs called PARP inhibitors. It appears from the study that the combination boosted the benefits of intravenous vitamin C treatment, making it very difficult for leukemic stem cells to survive.

This has prompted researchers to commence a large clinical trial to test the efficacy of this approach.

I am not suggesting that this is definitive work proving the benefits of vitamin C as an anti-cancer agent. What I am suggesting, however, that it is time that the conservative elements of medicine who continue to demean those people working in complementary medicine, suggesting their therapies are worthless and in some occasions harmful, should start embracing integrative therapies.

Integrative medicine takes the best aspects of orthodox medicine and combines this with the best aspects of evidence-based complementary medicine.

My attitude has always been, I don’t care what works as long as it does work and doesn’t hurt people. I totally agree that we need science behind what we do but with the studies I have reported above, clearly the science is there and needs to be embraced.