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Vitamin C Controversy, Progesterone

September 1998 - Print | Index

In April the journal Nature published a study which was used by the news media to sensationally promote the idea that even a low daily dose of vitamin C (500 mg) may be harmful. But the real story here is not so much about vitamin C - even in the limited area that it addressed (DNA markers), the study actually showed vitamin C more likely to be beneficial than harmful - but rather the real story has to do with the way that public opinion is molded and shaped, not in the interests of truth and educating people, but in the interests of promoting controversy, sensationalism, and increased sales of newspapers. The real story has to do with the huge amount of publicity generated by the news media around a mis-reading of the study.

The research was done at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, and it measured the effect that a daily dose of vitamin C had on two biological markers of oxidative DNA damage, 8-oxoguanine and 8-oxoadenine. (It is thought that oxidative damage to DNA may potentially lead to cancer.) One of the markers, 8-oxoadenine, increased with vitamin C supplementation; the other, 8-oxoguanine, decreased. So does this mean that vitamin C may be a mixed blessing, both causing and preventing oxidative damage? Not exactly.

Alexander Schauss, Ph.D., who is Director of Life Sciences Division of Natural and Medicinal Products Research and who many of you may remember from his work with the grassroots organization, Citizens for Health, said, "Unfortunately, the story that ran in the New York Times did not reveal that the investigators made no claim that vitamin C caused any clinical evidence of harm. These researchers further commented that the use of vitamin C could be justified."

The researchers said this because 8-oxoguanine, the level of which was reduced during vitamin C supplementation, has been shown to have 10 times or more the mutagenic potential of 8-oxoadenine. 8-oxoadenine has much less potential to indicate cellular damage than 8-oxoguanine; in fact, 8-oxoadenine has not been clearly established as a marker of damaging oxidative stress.  Furthermore, recent unpublished research directly contradicts even the finding that 8-oxoadenine levels increase with vitamin C supplementation.

Why then would anyone publicize this as a study that showed the "possible danger of vitamin C supplementation"? That's where it gets really simple. Imagine a big headline that told the truth: "Vitamin C Found to Reduce Cell Damage". Talk about old news - vitamin C, an antioxidant with a wide range of biological effects, researched in hundreds of studies over several decades, is still believed to be good stuff. That story would've been lucky to make the bottom of the weather page in the NY Times!

TV Review

Several years ago at the Vitamin Express in Berkeley, the sales of Pro-Gest cream began to skyrocket, as more and more women discovered how profoundly it helped to balance their systems. I asked Dr. John Lee, the author of the book Natural Progesterone, how was it possible that so many women in Berkeley were deficient in a basic hormone? Was it a genetic error, similar to what Dr. Linus Pauling posits about the ability to manufacture vitamin C, which most mammals have retained but which human beings have lost?

Dr. Lee said he did not believe it was a genetic error, but a human error - the inundation of the environment with estrogenic pesticides, plastics, and other chemicals. These, he believed, were causing a widespread disruption of endocrine systems in both women and men.

This is the subject of the PBS Frontline show, Fooling with Nature. It tells of the 75,000 untested chemicals that are accumulating in the environment, many of which are organochlorines and xenoestrogens. The show tries to present both sides of the argument, interviewing scientists who advocate  government regulation of these chemicals and scientists who do not believe they pose a threat to human life. The work of Theo Colborn, the author of Our Stolen Future, is highlighted. She has inspired Congressional inquiries into industrial and agricultural chemicals. Also shown are the lobbying efforts of the chemical industry, which focused on the supposed dire economic effects of government regulation.

Estrogen pesticides and plastics are powerful endocrine disrupters. One study that was widely publicized demonstrated how they are affecting sexual characteristics of alligators, including reducing penis size. This may be linked to the depression of testosterone in human populations and a reported drop in sperm counts. Another more recent study was cited, however, that found sperm counts stable for the last 20 or so years.

Even if by some miracle the deluge of the environment with these chemicals is brought back to levels established as "safe", how do we know these levels really are safe? For instance, a researcher named Vom Saal has been studying bisphenol-a, a plastic used in making food containers, CD's, and even used as a sealant for teeth. Bisphenol-a is a powerful estrogenic plastic. Vom Saal recently found that it has an estrogenic effect at doses 25,000 times lower than the lower levels of what was previously thought dangerous!

Although the show seems to indicate that as of right now, there is no clear scientific answer as to whether or not these chemicals are changing the course of life on this planet, it definitely gives one pause to think. And it may explain, at least in part, not only why so many women have success with natural progesterone, but also why so many men and women are needing and can benefit from DHEA and pregnenolone. If you get the chance, be sure to tune in to this excellent Frontline episode, Fooling with Nature!

The BEST of health to you!
Michael LeVesque, President

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products listed in this newsletter are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult with your physician before taking any of these products.