Vitamin C Regulates Stem Cells and Curbs Leukemia Growth

vitamin c stem cells

By Heather CallaghanEditor

The life of a stem cell is still a mystery to scientists. Stem cells are the pervasive cells that “seed” new cancer cells, feed fatal tumors and often evade treatment. But recent research is intrigued with the effects of vitamin C on leukemia stem cells.

A new study from the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) has found that stem cells take up unusually high levels of vitamin C, which then regulates their function and suppresses the development of leukemia.

Dr. Sean Morrison, the Director of CRI said:

We have known for a while that people with lower levels of ascorbate (vitamin C) are at increased cancer risk, but we haven’t fully understood why. Our research provides part of the explanation, at least for the blood-forming system.

The trick for learning about stem cell metabolism is for scientists to find a large enough of them to study – but it’s apparently rare to find them in each tissue of the body.

Yet, this study broke ground in that development with new techniques they write about in the recently published study in Nature. Incredibly, the researchers can now routinely measure metabolite levels in rare cell populations such as stem cells.

They report [emphasis added]:

The techniques led researchers to discover that every type of blood-forming cell in the bone marrow had distinct metabolic signatures – taking up and using nutrients in their own individual way. One of the main metabolic features of stem cells is that they soak up unusually high levels of ascorbate. To determine if ascorbate is important for stem cell function, researchers used mice that lacked gulonolactone oxidase (Gulo) – a key enzyme that most mammals, including mice but not humans, use to synthesize their own ascorbate.

Loss of the enzyme requires Gulo-deficient mice to obtain ascorbate exclusively through their diet like humans do. This gave CRI scientists strict control over ascorbate intake by the mice and allowed them to mimic ascorbate levels seen in approximately 5 percent of healthy humans. At these levels, researchers expected depletion of ascorbate might lead to loss of stem cell function but were surprised to find the opposite was true – stem cells actually gained function. However, this gain came at the cost of increased instances of leukemia.

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Dr. Michalis Agathocleous, lead author of the study explains:

Stem cells use ascorbate to regulate the abundance of certain chemical modifications on DNA, which are part of the epigenome.

The epigenome is a set of mechanisms inside a cell that regulates which genes turn on and turn off. So when stem cells don’t receive enough vitamin C, the epigenome can become damaged in a way that increases stem cell function but also increases the risk of leukemia.

When ascorbate levels are dwindling, it can lead to the deactivation of an enzyme called Tet2. Mutations are said to inactivate Tet2 and depletions of vitamin C may limit Tet2 function in tissues in a way that increases the risk of leukemia.

Older patients have a higher risk of developing a precancerous condition called clonal hematopoiesis that also increases leukemia risk. But why do some people with this condition end up with leukemia and some do not? CRI researchers think this discovery may hold the key.

“One of the most common mutations in patients with clonal hematopoiesis is a loss of one copy of Tet2. Our results suggest patients with clonal hematopoiesis and a Tet2 mutation should be particularly careful to get 100 percent of their daily vitamin C requirement,” Dr. Morrison said.

“Because these patients only have one good copy of Tet2 left, they need to maximize the residual Tet2 tumor-suppressor activity to protect themselves from cancer.”

A recent study found that vitamin C is 10 times more effective at killing cancer stem cells than pharmaceuticals. While both studies referred to ascorbate, this particular studied focused on the vitamin’s ability to kill stem cells and stop cancer stem cells from robbing mitochondria of their ability to have sustenance. Additionally, intravenous vitamin C has been found to halt the growth of aggressive forms of cancer, but recent studies seem to be referring to ascorbate taken orally.

We recommend taking a form of vitamin C that has its other cofactors with it in order to fully digest and increase bioavailability. One of those might be a pure formulation of Ester C.

If you are into liposomal vitamin C please avoid the popular brands that use soybean oil – I did not find much benefit from them and had upset stomach each time. One with a sunflower base might be better.

Non-GMO ascorbate is an inexpensive option but may lead to diarrhea if taking over 2,000mg a day.

The government’s recommendations for vitamin C are a mere 65mg per day! And most Americans aren’t even reaching that amount. You can take around 1,000mg a day and some people go up to 2,000mg – please speak to your preferred healthcare practitioner.

DISCLAIMER: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


 favorite-velva-smallHeather Callaghan is an independent researcher, writer, speaker and food freedom activist. She is the Editor and co-founder of NaturalBlaze as well as a certified Self-Referencing IITM Practitioner.

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