Science Bites seeks to compile the latest scientific research updates in bite-sized forms.

1. Vitamin B6 and B12 linked to lung cancer

Men are prone to developing lung cancer if they consume large doses of vitamin B – specifically B6 and B12 – suggests a recent study. This tends to be more prominent in male smokers.

Over 77,000 adults between 50 – 76 years old were recruited for this research in Washington. The volunteers answered questions regarding their vitamin intake over the previous decade. More than 800 of the study participants developed lung cancer over an average six-year follow-up.

Investigators found that the risk of lung cancer was nearly doubled in men who took these specific vitamin supplements. Additionally, men who smoked possessed three to four times higher risk of contracting the cancer.

Study lead author Theodore Brasky cautioned, “High-dose B6 and B12 supplements should not be taken for lung cancer prevention, especially in men, and they may cause harm in male smokers.”

The study served to point out an association between vitamins and lung cancer – not to prove cause-and-effect. Reasons behind the findings are still unclear. Interestingly, there was no link found between folate and lung cancer risk. Also, women’s risk was not heightened by vitamin B6 and B12 supplements.

However, Brasky said, “we found that men who took more than 20 milligrams per day of B6 averaged over 10 years had an 82% increased risk of lung cancer relative to men who did not take supplemental B vitamins from any source.”

“Men who took more than 55 micrograms per day of B12 had a 98% increased lung cancer risk relative to men who did not take B vitamins,” he added.

2. Vitamin C injections to treat leukaemia

A study highlighting the role of vitamin C in treating blood cancers has recently been published in the journal, Cell. Researchers from a few universities including New York University and Monash University in Australia collaborated to produce this animal study.

It is widely believed that certain acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) cases are caused by a mutation in the Tet Methylcytosine Dixoygenase 2 (TET2) gene. Generally, this gene helps “mature” stem cells to form specialised white blood cells. A mutation here could lead to uncontrollable growth of tumour cells and, subsequently, AML.

The team used mice to investigate whether vitamin C could restore the TET2 gene to working order as well as aid in reducing the progression of leukaemia. Cell lines from human leukaemia patients were implanted into the mice. They found that high doses of vitamin C intravenously succeeded in suppressing the leukaemia stem cell growth in the subjects.

Importantly, the dose used was far higher relative to weight, than would be safe in humans. Putting thing into perspective, it would warrant the equivalent of a human consuming 300g of vitamin C – totalling the vitamin content of over 5,000 oranges.

Thus, despite paving the way for future treatment prospects, attaining an acceptable beneficial dose and running the trial in humans are still necessary.

One of the researchers from New York University shares how vitamin C could allow for faulty stem cells to mature and die normally – instead of excessively multiplying and leading to AML. Photo credit: San Diego Union Tribune
One of the researchers from New York University shares how vitamin C could allow for faulty stem cells to mature and die normally – instead of excessively multiplying and leading to AML. Photo credit: San Diego Union Tribune

3. Vision loss progression slowed with aid of supplement

A team of experts from have discovered an inexpensive and cost-effective over-the-counter supplement – a combination of antioxidant/zinc – can help preserve vision loss in the elderly. Known as the “Age-Related Eye Disease Study” or AREDS supplement based on a trial in which it was previously studied.

Researcher Dr Aaron Lee said his team found AREDS was “greatly cost-effective for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration, specifically in people who have active wet, age-related macular degeneration in one eye and dry in the other”.

He added, the new findings suggest that this supplement could particularly delay the need for more expensive treatment of the “wet” form of the illness. The mode of action is unclear but Lee said, “the current formulation of the supplements contains antioxidants that are thought to be protective of the retina from damage that results in wet age-related macular degeneration.”

Lee’s team studied two formulas of the available supplements: Formula 1 has high doses of vitamins C and E, beta carotene, zinc and copper and Formula 2 has lutein and zeaxanthin instead of beta carotene.

They used a statistical model, information from the AREDS trial and data from over 90,000 people with macular degeneration in the United Kingdom. From this, it was revealed that both formulas effectively treated patients with early stage disease.

Over the course of a lifetime, the researchers found that these patients would need nearly eight fewer injections of anti-VEGF therapies into their eye, said Lee. The team concluded that this could lead to patients saving thousands of dollars over time. MIMS

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