Leukemia: vitamin C prevents and fights it

Vitamin C reduces the risk of leukemia and may also be useful as “chemotherapy” for blood cancer, according to two recent studies. Both studies investigated how vitamin C affects the metabolism and genetics of hematopoietic stem cells, the cells that give rise to various blood cells like red blood cells. Mutations in these cells can cause various blood cancers.

A study published in the prestigious journal Nature shows that human hematopoietic stem cells (those that give rise to blood cells) naturally absorb high amounts of vitamin C. When cells are insufficiently supplied with vitamin C, they are more likely to turn into leukemic cells.

The findings indicate the importance of taking 100 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin C daily, especially in older adults, said study author Sean Morrison, director of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute. at UT Southwestern.

Vitamin C fights leukemia

Another study, this time published in the scientific journal Cell showed that high doses of vitamin C can cause leukemic cell death, potentially making it a useful and safe chemotherapy agent.

The lead researcher said the two studies complement each other, particularly in showing how vitamin C interacts with a gene called Tet2 that protects against leukemia. When the gene is damaged, the risk of leukemia increases. High doses of vitamin C can compensate for mutations in the Tet2 gene, restoring its normal functioning. Usually, the transformation of normal cells into leukemia cells is irreversible, but the study demonstrated that this is not true when leukemia is driven by Tet2 mutations.

Vitamin C: Respect the recommended daily intakes

The Nature study has shown that the lack of vitamin C is a factor limiting the proper functioning of the Tet2 gene. People have two copies of the gene, one from each parent. When one of the genes is disabled, it is important to take the full recommended dose of vitamin C so that the remaining gene can exert its full tumor suppressing effect.

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The danger of leukemia is especially great in people with a preleukemic condition called clonal hematopoiesis. These people have partially mutated hematopoietic stem cells that produce large numbers of genetically identical clones of themselves, crowding out normal cells.

It is epidemiologically known that people with lower levels of vitamin C are at higher risk of cancer, this study has just demonstrated the molecular mechanism behind this. These data suggest that all cancers are probably not aggravated by vitamin C depletion but that some leukemias would be increased in the absence of vitamin C.

The researchers in turn concluded on the importance of the daily intake of the total recommended amount of vitamin C to reduce the risk of leukemia.


Michalis Agathocleous, Corbin E. Meacham: Ascorbate regulates haematopoietic stem cell function and leukaemogenesis. Nature volume 549, pages 476–481

Luisa Cimmino, Igor Dolgalev, Yubao Wang: Restoration of TET2 Function Blocks Aberrant Self-Renewal and Leukemia Progression. Cell

Read also:

The immune system: on the front line in the fight against cancer

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