By Michael Edmonds
Last night 60 Minutes ran another piece on intravenous vitamin C, presenting several cases where high dosage intravenous vitamin C appears to have had phenomenal effects in treating severe illness. Now we all know that correlation is not causation and science isn’t based on anecdotes, but I suspect that many New Zealanders will soon be demanding such treatments for gravely ill family members. Given the possible groundswell of interest and the potential that lawyers will now be used to demand such treatments for their clients, perhaps it would be sensible to introduce trials to test vitamin C efficacy. If patients are going to force doctors to use high dosage intravenous vitamin C then at least it should be done under conditions that will allow its efficacy to be assessed once and for all.
In the usual mainstream media approach, seeking ’balance’, two expert proponents of vitamin C therapies were interviewed. I always find it interesting to do a little googling of such experts. Professor Ian Brighthope has impressive sounding credentials (as well as a wonderful surname) and has spent his career advocating nutritional solutions to many diseases. This is a very admirable approach as I believe that nutrition can have a key role in human health. However, several things in his online biography bothered me. First he has co-authored two books with the titles ’You can knock out AIDS with vitamin C and immune nutrients’ and ’The AIDS fighters’. While I will accept that nutrients play a key role in health, I am very wary of unsubstantiated claims that they can cure diseases such as AIDS. Professor Brighthope also appears to have commercial interests in a natural products company, which some may suggest introduces a degree of bias.
The second supporter of high dosage vitamin C therapies, Professor Avni Sali, of the National Institute for Integrative Medicine (NIIM) in Australia also appears to have an impressive medical background with a strong interest in what are often referred to as alternative medical treatments. The Wellness Centre associated with NIIM offers both intravenous vitamin therapies and intravenous chelation therapy — a treatment claimed to remove toxins and heavy metals from the blood. Chelation therapy is considered by many medical professionals to be of dubious value.
During the programme the suggestion was made by the proponents of vitamin C therapies that such therapies should be tested by medical professionals. However, given the fact that at least one of the experts seems to be regularly treating patients with high dosage vitamin C perhaps they should look at doing some research themselves, perhaps in collaboration with mainstream medical professionals? Normally in science if you want to demonstrate the efficacy of a medical treatment you do your own research, not challenge others to do the research for you.
While some scientists and medical professionals may suggest that it would be a waste of time to carry out studies on vitamin C, perhaps instead it could be looked upon as an opportunity to engage the public in medical science and teach them about research?
Michael Edmonds is an educator, researcher and manager at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. He has strong interests in the communication and promotion of science.