People who constantly reach for the antacids may have something more serious than they realize. Helicobacter pylori is an unwelcome bacterium linked to stomach ulcers. But it also causes chronic gastritis that can, if left untreated, turn into cancer. Five major studies are currently underway to verify the connection. Three of them are investigating whether vitamin C can inhibit both the bacterium and the cancer.

Previous studies show that vitamin C slashes the risk of gastric cancer by 50%. Researchers believe the vitamin may work by counteracting n-nitroso compounds (NOC). NOCs form in the stomach when food containing nitrate or nitrite interacts with stomach acid. NOCs promote cancer. Nitrates are abundant in processed meat like bacon, hot dogs and lunch meat. Vitamin C scavenges cancer-promoting free radicals caused by NOCs.

It appears, however, that H. pylori keeps vitamin C from doing its job. Unlike uninfected people, those infected with H. pylori, show no stomach secretion of vitamin C. As a result, they are far more likely to get stomach cancer. H. pylori thrives in stomachs that don’t have enough acid to maintain the proper environment. Taking ascorbic acid (vitamin C) at 1 to 2 grams a day may help eradicate the bug, and keep cancer at bay.

Reed PI. 1999. Vitamin C, Helicobacter pylori infection and gastric carcinogenesis. Int J Vitam Nutr Res 69:220-27.