Dr. Ivan Rusilko is a strong believer in the power of intravenous vitamin therapy. The Miami Beach physician (who's also a former model, two-time Mr. USA, and erotic-fiction novelist) custom-mixes IV concoctions he says can boost energy levels, improve sex lives, and strengthen immune systems.
In fact, Rusilko — profiled in this week's New Times feature about Miami's IV vitamin craze — says if he were ever diagnosed with cancer, he would skip chemotherapy in favor of intravenous vitamin C.
That's a bold claim. But is there any scientific evidence to back up the idea?
The short answer is evidence suggests vitamin C might help in some cancer treatments, but it's too early to believe it could be a cure-all.
High-dose vitamin C has been studied as a cancer treatment since the 1970s, when Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling advocated it. Several initial studies showed favorable results, but later trials by the Mayo Clinic failed to confirm any benefits. After that, vitamin C as a cancer treatment moved to the realm of alternative therapy.
But those studies tested vitamin C taken orally. Some IV proponents argue that vitamin C administered intravenously yields stronger benefits — and in recent years, several studies have shown promising results, renewing interest in the treatment. One study found intravenous vitamin C boosted the effectiveness of chemotherapy in mice and mitigated side effects in humans, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Times reported that despite the study's findings, vitamin C "is unlikely to inspire the vigorous, and expensive, research necessary to become an approved tumor remedy" because of past discredited health claims and the inability of pharmaceutical companies to patent it.
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Laboratory studies have shown high doses of vitamin C might slow the growth and spread of certain types of cancer cells, the National Cancer Institute says. And some laboratory and animal studies have shown vitamin C plus anticancer therapies could be helpful.
However, the institute noted, other studies have found certain types of vitamin C might make chemo less effective. And IV vitamin C is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition.
Other studies are underway. Writes Dr. Timothy J. Moynihan, an oncologist: "Until clinical trials are completed, it's premature to determine what role, if any, intravenous vitamin C may play in the treatment of cancer."