There appears to be a link between vitamin C and stomach cancer with high levels appearing to offer a protective effect from developing the disease.
How this is achieved remains to be confirmed, but it does have an antioxidant effect and this may be the way it offers protection.
Also known by the name ascorbic acid, it is commonly found in fresh fruits and vegetables as well as in supplements.
Ascorbic acid is required to activate certain enzymes required in the synthesis or production of collagen, the substance that provides cell tissue binding and hence keeps us together.
It has an antioxidant effect in reducing free radicals associated with cancer.
You might have heard about the condition known as scurvy. It was a notorious problem in the 1800’s, common to sailors in the Royal Navy at the time, because of a lack in ascorbic acid.
The sailors way of preventing scurvy was drinking the juice of limes in their Rum.
The term ‘limey’ was used by the indigenous populations of Australia and North America to describe the British sailors because of this.
Scurvy causes tiredness, general illness and bleeding due to clotting issues, classically from the gums and blood spots or ‘petechiae’ in the legs.
Recent evidence has shed some light on the link between stomach tumors and vitamin C. The precancerous condition known as atrophic gastritis is associated with, among other things, low levels of ascorbic acid.
Diets rich in ascorbic acid appear to offer some protection from the development of atrophic gastritis(1).
If h.pylori infection
is present, this seems to interfere with ascorbic acid and promotes ulceration and
gastritis and in turn potentiating risk.
Treating h.pylori infection appears to promote ascorbic acid benefits and possibly offers some protection against stomach tumors(1).
In China, the rates of gastric malignancies are much higher than in the western population. As a consequence of this, China does offer some screening for the condition.
A study of Chinese participants looked at levels of ascorbic acid prior to being investigated for the tumor. (2)
The study found a correlation between the blood levels of ascorbic acid. The higher level of ascorbic acid was associated with a lower risk of adenocarcinomas.
The ‘jury’s still out’ as far as the optimal level to gain protection. The important thing is ensuring a good intake of fresh fruit and vegetables which are rich in it.
Whilst supplementation may seem sensible in high risk people, the studies so far have shown mixed results so taking it, at this stage, is a personal choice
1) Vitamin C, Gastritis, And Gastric Disease: A Historical Review And Update.
Aditi, A et al. Dig Dis Sci. 2012 Oct;57(10):2504-15. Epub 2012 Apr 28
2) Prediagnostic Plasma Vitamin C And Risk Of Gastric Adenocarcinoma And Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma In A Chinese Population
Tram Kim Lam et al, Am Jam Clin Nutr 2013 98: 1289-1297.