Intravenous vitamin C


As many of you know, I am a huge proponent of using high doses of intravenous vitamin C in certain cancer patients, patients with chronic infections and immune deficiencies, and also on a semi-routine basis for the prevention of cancer.  Intravenous vitamin C is one of the few “alternative” and complementary treatments that the BC Cancer Agency has labeled as investigational, as opposed to outright condemnation. Intravenous vitamin C is one of the more widely available treatments in Vancouver and Richmond, done by many naturopathic doctors. This naturopathic intravenous treatment has begun to receive headlines again in a positive light because of information from the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.   In reality, there has always been plenty of information available to both clinicians and patients that sheds light on how high IV doses of vitamin C can fight cancer and prevent new tumors from forming; most conventional physicians are not aware of these or state incorrectly that “vitamin C has already been studied and found to not be effective”.


High doses of vitamin C given intravenously (as opposed to the 10 grams given orally and studied in the past at the Mayo Clinic) have the interesting effect of being an oxidative treatment.  We all know that vitamin C taken orally acts as an antioxidant, but an important point is that very high doses given intravenously, usually between 25-100 grams, has a pro-oxidative effect.  The mechanism involves the generation of hydrogen peroxide within the tissues that accumulate the vitamin C.  One postulated mechanism of this formation involves vitamin C displacing iron from its carrier protein, with the subsequent intracellular generation of hydrogen peroxide.  This is selectively toxic to cancer cells because they lack an enzyme that other healthy cells have in abundance: catalase.


Catalase is one of the fastest enzymes ever studied.  Its’ job is to do the following conversion:


2H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) -->  2 H2O (water) + O2 (oxygen)


The products water and oxygen are of course harmless.  If this reaction does not occur efficiently due to lack of the catalase enzyme (ie in cancer cells) the hydrogen peroxide can react with the displaced iron and create an excess of free radicals.  These free radicals then stimulate apotosis or cell suicide in the cancer cells.  This basic process is also the reason I will routinely treat once or twice a month some immunodeficient patients and also pro-active patients seeking prevention against cancer.


The IV treatments are generally painless, and completely non-toxic. They are a slow IV drip over 45 minutes to 2-3 hours depending on the dose given.  


In some of the articles, the study’s author makes a clear distinction from the generation of tissue peroxide and giving hydrogen peroxide intravenously.  This is an important distinction as the mechanism of action is different.  Intravenous dilute hydrogen peroxide is also an effective adjunctive cancer treatment, but the peroxide is reacted with immediately in the blood by catalase.  Thus, no peroxide gets to kill cancer cells (with the possible exception of some blood borne cancers).  Instead, the effect is a very strong immune system stimulation, with the generation of cytokines (chemicals that act on the immune system) that provoke a redirection of resources to focus on the killing of cancer cells.  It is the same mechanism that applies to ozone therapy.  In these oxidative therapies, the generation of the chemicals interferon gamma and tumor necrosis factor alpha.  With vitamin C, it seems that we can get similar releases of chemicals, but only if the immune cells are already stimulated. Thus if the immune cells haven’t recognized the cancer, then intravenous vitamin C probably won’t have an immune effect but would only have the effect of generating hydrogen peroxide at the tumor (which is still very useful).


Perhaps the best thing about naturopathic medicine is the fact that it is usually completely non-toxic.   While natural substances such as plants can definitely have toxicities, they are generally less than those of drugs.  When we work with stimulating the body’s own defenses, and use molecules and chemicals that are already present in the body, we have even less toxicity.  Intravenous vitamin C falls into this category.



Dosages used in intravenous vitamin C


In my Vancouver and Richmond patients, many have reported that they have received intravenous vitamin C at other clinics, usually in dosages ranging from 12.5 to 50 grams. In cases ofadjunctive support in cancer, 50 grams is definitely at the lower end of optimal. We know that the blood concentration necessary to have a tumor killing effect is 400 mg/dl, and to achieve this in most patients intravenous vitamin C dosages need to be around 50-150 grams, depending on the patient. 


Frequency of use


Most of the studies on vitamin C are "test tube"studies, but they are markedly positive, when studied alone against cancer and also when studied with a variety of chemotherapy agents. It is always best to check with your naturopathic doctor regarding the use of vitamin C during chemotherapy. Clinician experience usually sets the frequency of intravenous vitamin C at 2-3 times per week to start, and then reduction in frequency. In some protocols, it can be alternated with treatments of sodium bicarbonate as part of an alkalinization protocol. This protocol is more intensive and involves treatment 5 days a week for 3 weeks, where intravenous sodium bicarbonate is done 5 days a week for 2 weeks, and then vitamin C is used.


Costs involved


25 grams of intravenous vitamin C cost $110. Each subsequent 25 grams adds a cost of $20. The initial consultation with Dr Chan or Dr Ward is $138.


Side effects during intravenous vitamin C


  • nausea (prevented by eating during and before treatment)
  • thirst
  • frequent urination
  • Very Rare: risks of vein irritation, volume overload


I consider this an adjunctive cancer treatment only, based on my experience. It does seem to improve quality of life consistently in cancer patients, and most test tube studies on interactions with chemotherapy show beneficial interactions with making the chemotherapy more effective and more tolerable. The recent study on vitamin C negating chemotherapy used oxidized, rusted vitamin C (or dehydoascorbic acid).