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SCIENCE REPORT - July 11, 2001: Vitamin C and DNA - 2001-07-10

This is the VOA Special English Science Report.

. cientists at the University of Pennsylvania experimented with vitamin C in test tubes. They published the results in the publication Science.

The scientists studied the effects of vitamin C on a substance produced in the body from fat. That substance is called hydroperoxide. The hydroperoxide can be changed in a cell into substances that can damage DNA. The scientists found that vitamin C easily changed the hydroperoxide into the gene-damaging poisons. Such damage is the first step toward developing cancer.

However, the scientists said the study does not mean that vitamin C causes cancer. But they said people should probably re-consider taking large amounts of vitamin C pills each day. They say it is well known that vitamin C is important for human health. But they say people can get enough vitamin C in the foods they eat. Earlier studies have shown that eating a lot of fruits, vegetables and grains can reduce the chance of developing both heart disease and cancer.

Other researchers agreed. They said the latest study is important in understanding the chemistry of vitamin C. But they said the study did not involve people. The vitamin C was tested in the laboratory only. They said the results might be different in living cells.

Mark Levine is a vitamin C expert at the National Institutes of Health near Washington, D.C. He also questioned whether a similar study in people would produce the same results. Doctor Levine also said people should get their vitamin C in food instead of taking huge amounts in pills to stay healthy. He said research does not support taking a lot of vitamin C.

The United States government says people should get about eighty milligrams of vitamin C each day in the foods they eat. Studies have shown that the body can not use more than two-hundred milligrams of vitamin C each day. Medical researchers say that taking vitamin C pills cannot replace the value of eating healthy foods.

This VOA Special English Science Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.