Vitamin C: The Supplement Almost Everyone Should Take When They Are Sick

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Dr. Ronald Hunninghake is an internationally recognized expert on vitamin C who has personally supervised more than 60,000 intravenous (IV) vitamin C administrations.

In this interview, Dr. Hunninghake shares his experience with this important modality.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Vitamin C has taken a backseat in recent years with the advent of many newer antioxidants, but that doesn't make it any less important. Vitamin C is clearly the 'grandfather' of the traditional antioxidants we know of, and its potent health benefits have been clearly established.

Dr. Ronald Hunninghake is an internationally recognized expert on this vitamin. He got his start in this field about 22 years ago when he joined Dr. Hugh Riordan, who conducted research on intravenous (I.V.) vitamin C for cancer patients. His clinic is the successor to Linus Pauling and his work on vitamin C, and there is likely no clinic in the world with as much experience as his.

Dr. Hunninghake's Experience with Vitamin C for Cancer and Infectious Diseases

Dr. Riordan carried on a 15-year long research project called RECNAC (cancer spelled backwards). His groundbreaking research in cell cultures showed that vitamin C was selectively cytotoxic against cancer cells.

Together, Hunninghake and Riordan conducted studies with a series of patients who had either stage 3 and stage 4 cancer.

"I.V. vitamin C was found to be very beneficial," Hunninghake says. "It's not considered a stand-alone therapy for cancer, but it's a perfect adjunct to any kind of therapy that the cancer patient is receiving at this time.

It will reduce side effects and improve quality of life. There have actually been two major studies now showing how it improves quality of life."

Cancer is clearly a life threatening disease, and most cancer patients also experience depression, pain, and tremendous fatigue – all of which can make treatment all the more difficult.

These are all signs of scurvy, which is the result of vitamin C deficiency… And if you actually measure vitamin C levels in cancer patients, especially advanced cancer patients, most, if not all, are vitamin C deficient, Hunninghake claims.

"One of the things that I.V. vitamin C does is it immediately relieves their scurvy symptoms," Hunninghake says. "So they start having a greater sense of well being. They don't need as much pain medicine. Their appetite improves. Their mood improves. They have a better quality of life."

Vitamin C may be better known, however, for its benefits for infectious diseases.

Dr. Hunninghake remarked:

"Certainly, anyone that's got a cold or a flu, or chronic fatigue, or any chronic viral infection, we do use [vitamin C].

… Dr. Levy wrote "Curing the Incurable," which is a fantastic book about vitamin C for infectious disease and toxin control. So certainly, I.V. vitamin C works very well for infectious diseases, as well as cancer."

A perfect example of the healing power of this antioxidant vitamin is the dramatic case of Allan Smith, who contracted a serious case of swine flu, and was brought back from the brink of death using a combination of IV and oral vitamin C. (Interestingly, Smith is now also free of the cancer he was diagnosed with while undergoing treatment for swine flu…)

"It's definitely a very underutilized modality in infectious disease," Hunninghake says.

"It's really a premiere treatment for any chronic infection. Again, it's not typically recognized by conventional medicine."

Why is Vitamin C Not a Widely Adopted Treatment Strategy?

If vitamin C is so effective, why hasn't conventional medicine caught on?

Dr. Hunninghake tries to explain:

"I'm sure there are several factors here. Number one, most people think of vitamin C as a vitamin. You define vitamin as a trace amount of a substance that you need to prevent [ailments like] scurvy, in the case of vitamin C. But what we're talking about here is something in a pharmacological range.

The way to really understand vitamin C is to go back to the writings of Irwin Stone who wrote The Healing Factor, which was a fantastic book written in the 70s about vitamin C.

He points out that every creature, when they are sick, greatly increase their liver's or their kidney's production of vitamin C. But humans, primates, and guinea pigs have lost that ability.

We still have the gene that makes the L-gulonolactone oxidase enzyme that converts glucose to vitamin C but it's non-functional. We have to get our vitamin C from the outside; from food.

When we give vitamin C intravenously, what we're doing is recreating your liver's ability to synthesize tremendous amounts of vitamin C.

… So I always look upon high dose vitamin C as nature's way of dealing with crisis in terms of your health. This notion however does not exist in the conventional thinking in the medical mind."

There are also financial factors. The standard oncology treatments are extremely expensive while I.V. vitamin C is relatively inexpensive. And conventional medicine, as a general rule, is notoriously uninterested in solutions that can't produce profits.

Administration Methods and Dosage Recommendations

There are two primary ways you can administer vitamin C; orally and intravenously.

"For the average patient, I… encourage them to take at least the Linus Pauling dose, which is 1 gram, twice a day, of vitamin C," Hunninghake says.

"Certainly you can do more than that. If you're suffering from chronic infections or chronic fatigue you can go ahead and gradually increase your dose up to what's called the bowel tolerance dose.

It's very safe. The idea that vitamin C causes kidney stones has been completely disproven... There have been several studies by urologists that have shown that is not an issue with high-dose vitamin C.

For the typical patient oral [supplementation] is fine, but if you have a serious illness, you should think in terms of doing intravenous vitamin C from a practitioner because it can greatly amplify and change the benefits of I.V. vitamin C."

As for the typical dosage for intravenous vitamin C, the Riordan IVC protocol calls for a starting dose around 15 grams.

However, it's important to first get your G6PD (Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) level checked.

Check for G6PD Deficiency Before Starting I.V. Vitamin C

G6PD is an enzyme that your red blood cells need to maintain membrane integrity.

What many people don't understand is that high dose intravenous vitamin C is a strong pro-oxidant. And giving a pro-oxidant to a G6PD-deficient patient can cause hemolysis of their red blood cells.

So administering intravenous vitamin C is not for the novice.

I strongly recommend getting it done by an experienced practitioner who uses the Riordan protocol or some other protocol that ensures the vitamin C is administered in a safe manner.

Fortunately, G6PC deficiency is relatively uncommon. People of Mediterranean- and African decent are at greater risk, but it's rare even in those groups. In one series of over 800 G6PD tests, Hunninghake only found four people with a deficiency.

So it's not a great concern, but should you happen to be that rare person with a deficiency, the ramifications of barreling ahead with high dose I.V. vitamin C could be disastrous.

Dr. Riordan's original research suggested that you need to achieve a vitamin C blood level of around 300-350 mg/dl in order to achieve selective cytotoxicity. However, Hunninghake claims blood levels around 250 mg/dl may be sufficient to have an anti-cancer effect.

Dr. Hunninghake expounds on this issue:

"Now, just to put that into perspective for the average person, if we were to measure someone off the street, their blood level would be about 1 mg/dl if they're eating a fairly decent diet. If they're less than 0.6 mg per dl, they're into a scurvy type range of vitamin C.

But what we're talking about for a post-IVC saturation level, giving, let's say 25 to 50 grams of vitamin C intravenously over about a 90-minute period, is in the 200 to 300 mg/dl range.

So we're talking about 200 to 300 times the normal amount of vitamin C that your blood normally experiences just eating a balanced diet."

It's important to understand that these extremely high levels are really only indicated for the treatment cancers and infectious diseases, not for every-day, general health. This is because vitamin C, which will always be an antioxidant, nevertheless starts to have a pro-oxidant effect at these extreme levels.

Interestingly, this pro-oxidant effect may actually be responsible for vitamin C's anti-cancerous properties…

Hunninghake explains:

"… At our second annual Riordan IVC and Cancer Conference held a few weeks ago in Japan, we had Dr. H. Chen, who was the author, along with Mark Levine, on high dose vitamin C as a source for creating hydrogen peroxide in the extracellular space surrounding tumor cells.

It's thought that it is this hydrogen peroxide, or pro-oxidant effect, of vitamin C that's causing the anti-tumor property. It's also that same pro-oxidant effect that, in fact, helps your body get rid of infectious disease."

To hear Dr. Hunninghake share some of the remarkable recoveries from difficult to treat cancers and other diseases, please listen to the interview in its entirety, or read through the transcript.

What You Need to Know About Oral Vitamin C

The latest version of oral vitamin C supplementation is liposomal vitamin C, which I was introduced to by Dr. Thomas Levy, who is clearly one of the leaders in this area.

Liposomal vitamin C bypasses many of the complications of traditional vitamin C or ascorbic acid, and, according to Dr. Levy, you can achieve far higher intracellular concentrations this way.

"I'm all in favor of people trying this," Hunninghake says. "I think it can be used as an adjunct to I.V. vitamin C. Most people are only going to do I.V. vitamin C once or twice a week. So by doing the liposomal vitamin C, they can easily do 6 grams of liposomal vitamin C orally without a bit of gastrointestinal distress."

From Hunninghake's perspective, liposomal vitamin C may still be somewhat unproven, but is nonetheless quite safe.

There are also other forms of vitamin C on the market, such as buffered forms of sodium ascorbate. One example would be Ester-C. These buffered forms are also effective and do not cause the gastrointestinal distress associated with conventional ascorbic acid.

So far, I have recommended avoiding Ester-C, as I believe it's an oxidized form of vitamin C, which could do more harm than good. Dr. Hunninghake disagrees with my assessment, stating he's never seen any evidence indicating that Ester-C might be an oxidized form of vitamin C.

Based on Dr. Hunninghake's expertise in this area, I may reconsider my stance on Ester-C, although I still believe liposomal vitamin C has benefits that cannot be matched by buffered forms of vitamin C.

Dosing Frequency Can Also Make a Difference

Another factor to keep in mind when taking oral vitamin C is dosing frequency.

Dr. Steve Hickey, who wrote the book Ascorbate, has shown that if you take vitamin C frequently throughout the day, you can achieve much higher plasma levels. So even though your kidneys will tend to rapidly excrete the vitamin C, by taking it every hour or two, you can maintain a much higher plasma level than if you just dose it once a day (unless you're taking an extended release form of vitamin C).

There are also a number of people, primarily with the naturopathic perspective, who believe that in order to be truly effective, ascorbic acid alone is not enough -- you need the combination of the ascorbic acid with its associated micronutrients, such as bioflavonoids and other components.

Hunninghake agrees.

"There is no question that would be a better way to go. Any time you can [get it from] food, you're going to be better off… [F]ood is still the essential thing your body needs in order to get optimal cellular functioning.

But when you're sick, you can use trace nutrients in orthomolecular doses to achieve effects that you can't get from just food alone.

But in general, for people who are healthy and want to stay healthy, I would recommend using vitamin C that has bioflavonoids and other co-factors associated with it."

As far as getting your vitamin C from food, remember that the more colorful your diet, the higher it will be in bioflavanoids and cartenoids. Eating a colorful diet (i.e. plenty of vegetables) helps ensure you're naturally getting that phytonutrient synergism needed for maintaining health.

One of the easiest ways to ensure you're getting enough vegetables in your diet is by juicing them. For more information, please see my juicing page.

You can also squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice into some water for a vitamin C rich beverage.

For More Information about Intravenous Vitamin C

If you, or someone you know, want more information about using vitamin C as an adjunct to your cancer protocol, please visit, where you can find the Riordan IVC Protocol discussed above. That site also contains a number of research articles so that you can review the evidence for yourself.

Dr. Hunninghake has also created a video on how vitamin C fights cancer, available at

This site also contains an informative lecture by Dr. Glen Hyland called IVC, Chemotherapy and Radiation - Are They Compatible? Hyland offers compelling evidence showing that not only are they compatible but they are synergistic.

Last but not least, for more details about vitamin C, its many health benefits, and the synergistic effects achieved when combined with other nutrients such as vitamin D, please listen to the entire interview as it contains much more than what I've summarized here.

Final Thoughts

In closing, Dr. Hunninghake says:

"If you're going to treat cancer, you can't rely upon one modality. Even though we do kind of focus on I.V. vitamin C at our clinic, we measure nutrient levels.

We have people reexamine their diet. We encourage detoxification strategies, regular exercise, adequate sleep, improving interpersonal relationships… All of these can have a bearing on your outcome in cancer."

In my opinion, a cancer treatment plan that does not include testing and optimizing your vitamin D levels is nothing short of criminal negligence. Optimizing your vitamin D levels is just that important, especially if you have a disease like cancer.

In fact some experts believe that vitamin D is the "new" vitamin C. Of course they are not mutually exclusive and can be taken together, but I am still more of a fan of vitamin D as it really is a hormone and influences up to10 percent of your genes, which has very profound consequences if you are deficient.

However vitamin C also has great potential here, and there is overwhelming evidence showing that using I.V. vitamin C as an adjunct to conventional treatment methods can be extremely beneficial, with virtually no risk.

+ Sources and References