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June 14 � Vitamin C pills, popped by millions as a protection against colds and other diseases, actually may play a role in damaging DNA, a step toward forming cancer cells, a laboratory study suggests. The findings do not mean that the supplement causes cancer, but has reopened the debate about their benefits and risks.IN A test-tube experiment analyzing the action of vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that it triggered the production of DNA-damaging agents known to cause mutations associated with a variety of cancers. Lead researcher Ian Blair of the university�s Center for Cancer Pharmacology cautioned that the study was conducted in a test tube and not with living human cells or in actual people. �Absolutely for God�s sake don�t say vitamin C causes cancer,� Blair said. �The key finding is that vitamin C can do good things and bad things. And we�ve figured out what the bad ones are. In terms of the impact, I think it just redirects people�s attention to the fact that you can�t replace a good diet with magic bullets such as vitamin C.� Instead of pills, Blair said people can get all the nutrients they need through a balanced diet, particularly fruits, vegetables and grains. THE SUPPLEMENT DEBATE �Far more caution should be taken in the use of dietary supplements � and an insistence on real proof that there�s a benefit before undertaking any of them,� said Dr. Arthur Grollman, director of the Laboratory for Chemical Biology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and an expert in cancer causes who was not involved in the study. Grollman is referring the fiery debate over regulation of supplements. While the Food and Drug Administration requires that drugs be proven safe and effective before they can be marketed, supplements are exempt from such regulations. Now, health advocates are calling for increased oversight of the industry, ranging from quality control efforts to standardize the ingredients in products to the establishment of an independent panel to review whether each product is safe and effective. Preliminary efforts aimed at better oversight are beginning � some of them even supported by segments of the industry. STUDY DETAILS In the study, Blair and his colleagues analyzed the effects of vitamin C in concentrations comparable to those found in the human body if a person were taking 200 milligrams a day on lipid hydroperoxide, a compound produced in the body from fat in the diet. Vitamin C was highly efficient in converting lipid hydroperoxide into the gene-damaging toxins, he found. The study appears in this week�s journal Science. Blair stressed that DNA damage does not mean that a person will develop. �The cell has an exquisite repair mechanism for lesions in the DNA,� he stressed. Nevertheless, the research may explain the failure of studies that have attempted to show vitamin C can protect against cancer, he said. �There are two camps - people who think vitamin C supplementation is good for you and those who think it is bad for you,� he said. �There is a paucity of any scientific evidence that it is really good for you.�
 
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