The Truth about HIV and Vitamin C

Controversial as it is vitamin C has outperformed AZT in trials on HIV infected human cells. A small trial has also shown positive results in those with AIDS. I am not claiming or advising anyone to solely take vitamin C over AZT for the treatment of HIV, but opening the discussion on doing more research to test whether vitamin C is effective in treating the disease in HIV positive people, perhaps in combination with anti-retroviral drugs.

In the New Optimum Nutrition Bible I report on ‘in vitro’ trials on human T-cells infected with HIV, comparing the anti-viral effect of AZT with vitamin C. I say that “AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful and proving less effective than vitamin C in suppressing the virus in chronically infected cells (Ref 23).”

Ref 23. These ‘in vitro’ studies on human T-cells shows that vitamin C suppresses the HIV virus in both chronically and latently infected cells, while AZT has no significant effect. It is a tragedy that this simple, non-toxic potential treatment approach hasn’t been further tested in a human trial with the required high dose to achieve the same tissue saturation required to suppress the virus in HIV infected cells . [Both AZT and vitamin C can inhibit viral replication in acutely (newly) infected cells.]

Harakeh S, Jariwalla RJ.Ascorbate effect on cytokine stimulation of HIV production. Nutrition. 1995 Sep-Oct;11(5 Suppl):684-7.

Also see:

Harakeh S, Jariwalla RJ, NF-kappa B-independent suppression of HIV expression by ascorbic acid, AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 1997 Feb 10;13(3):235-9.

Harakeh S, Niedzwiecki A, Jariwalla RJ. Mechanistic aspects of ascorbate inhibition of human immunodeficiency virus. Chem Biol Interact. 1994 Jun;91(2-3):207-15.

Harakeh S, Jariwalla RJ. Comparative study of the anti-HIV activities of ascorbate and thiol-containing reducing agents in chronically HIV-infected cells. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991 Dec;54(6 Suppl):1231S-1235S.

Harakeh S, Jariwalla RJ, Pauling L. Suppression of human immunodeficiency virus replication by ascorbate in chronically and acutely infected cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1990 Sep;87(18):7245-9.

This robust and impeccably conducted research, published in the most prestigious journal of the National Academy of Sciences, warrants following up with ‘in vivo’ trials. Read here what the author, Dr Raxit Jariwalla, wrote to the Guardian in 2007.  The real crime here is that no full scale human trials have been funded on vitamin C to follow up Jariwalla’s important finding probably because it is non-patentable and hence not profitable. Until such a trial is done we will not know to what extent vitamin C can act as an anti-retroviral agent. The non-toxicity of vitamin C, compared to AZT, make the need for this research of paramount importance.

Goldacre then went on to attack Jariwalla’s research on the basis that cell studies mean nothing. Here’s Jariwalla’s reply:

“In his most recent column (‘Bad Science’, The Guardian, 17/2/07), Mr. Ben Goldacre refers to two small studies, published by me with a colleague while at the Linus Pauling Institute, comparing vitamin C with AZT in laboratory cultures of HIV-infected cells, calling them “farcically weak evidence, blatantly unfit for purpose, absurdly reductionist”. With all due respect to Goldacre, but this is an unfortunate characterization and mockery of scientific research. It is regrettably so and also ironical, since in his previous remarks in the same column on another lab study of ours on vitamin C and HIV (‘Working Papers’, The Guardian, 20/1/05), Goldacre wrote “Can a published research paper ever be Bad Science? I think not”. Later in the column, he reiterated “But is the Jariwalla paper Bad Science? No. I don’t think a paper can ever be”. Such double standard in journalistic judgment on evaluating research studies is unfortunate, as even though Goldacre may “think not”, it skews the validity of published research and erroneously leads it to being labeled as ‘Bad Science’.

Laboratory studies are an essential first step in the discovery and development of new therapies. Even during the development of the first AIDS drug AZT, lab studies preceded clinical trials prior to drug approval. Based on conventional lab tests, employing chronically or latently HIV-infected cell lines in two studies, we found that vitamin C was more effective than AZT in suppressing HIV (see The Guardian, 20/1/05). The poor ability of AZT to suppress HIV expression in chronically infected cells was also independently reported by another group from the National Institutes of Health (Science 244: 575-7, 1989). Since then, it is a well recognized fact that although AZT can prevent infection of freshly or acutely infected cells, it has limited action in suppressing virus expression in chronic infection.

In our studies on vitamin C, we essentially reported scientific observations and conclusions made using HIV-infected cells in culture, not pronouncements about the disease in people. In fact, we said that our data offered a rationale for evaluating vitamin C in clinical trials in combination with other anti-HIV agents. In this regard, I wish to clarify that my concurrence with Patrick Holford’s statement that AZT is proving less effective than vitamin C is supportive of a conclusion that pertains specifically to interpretation of results of our lab experiments with HIV-infected cells (as reported in the above two studies) and not to any claims about HIV in people.

At the same time, I also wish to point out that since the publication of our lab studies, clinical studies by other researchers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals have documented beneficial effects of vitamin C (and other nutrients) in HIV-infected persons. Thus, in HIV-infected adults, supplementation with vitamins C and E was shown to prevent oxidative damage to DNA promoted by AZT (J Clin Invest 102: 4-9, 1998). In another placebo-controlled trial of vitamin C and E supplementation, the researchers reported significantly lowered oxidative stress (associated with HIV infection or antiretroviral treatment) and a trend toward reduction in HIV virus level in blood (AIDS 12: 1653-59, 1998). In a small subgroup of advanced AIDS patients, administration of high-dose vitamin C and NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine) was linked to reduced HIV viral load, improved immune cell (CD4) count and lymphocyte proliferation (Eur J Clin Invest 30: 905-14, 2000). Additionally, several studies using multivitamins (that include vitamins C and E in the composition) have reported positive benefits in HIV-infected individuals, as reviewed recently (AIDS 19: 847-861, 2005).

Finally, with respect to the conventional cocktail of antiretroviral drugs (which include AZT), it is well known that although these drugs can lower HIV viral load in the bloodstream, such drugs do not restore or reconstitute the immune system, indicating the need for other immunotherapeutic approaches. Why then is vitamin therapy not taken seriously in AIDS? The reason cannot be lack of medical evidence as several peer-reviewed clinical studies support a beneficial role for vitamins in AIDS. Rather, it is very likely to be unawareness or disbelief in the potency of vitamins——how could simple, naturally occurring compounds such as vitamin C or E alter the course of a deadly viral illness such as AIDS? Add to that the non-patentability of these substances (with little room for profit) and you have commercially unattractive commodities for the medical industry. Despite that, the fact remains that AIDS is a deadly disease and drugs in themselves do not cure it. Why should it matter then, if an approach to treatment of an incurable disease involves vitamin therapy, if that approach has the potential to improve the quality of human lives? More so now than ever before in the history of medicine, what’s needed is a change of attitude for benefit of humanity. “
Sincerely, Raxit Jariwalla, PhD, Santa Clara, California, USA

So the evidence that does exist is promising.  I am unaware of any evidence that shows that high dose vitamin C has no positive effect against HIV AIDS. In this context the role of high dose vitamin C in relation to AIDS is promising and needs to be further explored.

Other useful links :

Vitamin C, Aids And The Goldacre Monologues