The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. Humans, unlike most animals, are unable to synthesize vitamin C endogenously, so it is an essential dietary component.
Vitamin C is required for the biosynthesis of collagen, L-carnitine, and certain neurotransmitters; vitamin C is also involved in protein metabolism. Collagen is an essential component of connective tissue, which plays a vital role in wound healing. Vitamin C is also an important physiological antioxidant and has been shown to regenerate other antioxidants within the body, including alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E). Ongoing research is examining whether vitamin C, by limiting the damaging effects of free radicals through its antioxidant activity, might help prevent or delay the development of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases in which oxidative stress plays a causal role. In addition to its biosynthetic and antioxidant functions, vitamin C plays an important role in immune function and improves the absorption of nonheme iron, the form of iron present in plant-based foods. Insufficient vitamin C intake causes scurvy, which is characterized by fatigue or lassitude, widespread connective tissue weakness, and capillary fragility.
The intestinal absorption of vitamin C is regulated by at least one specific dose-dependent, active transporter. Cells accumulate vitamin C via a second specific transport protein. In vitro studies have found that oxidized vitamin C, or dehydroascorbic acid, enters cells via some facilitated glucose transporters and is then reduced internally to ascorbic acid. The physiologic importance of dehydroascorbic acid uptake and its contribution to overall vitamin C economy is unknown.
Oral vitamin C produces tissue and plasma concentrations that the body tightly controls. Approximately 70%–90% of vitamin C is absorbed at moderate intakes of 30–180 mg/day. However, at doses above 1 g/day, absorption falls to less than 50% and absorbed, unmetabolized ascorbic acid is excreted in the urine. Results from pharmacokinetic studies indicate that oral doses of 1.25 g/day ascorbic acid produce mean peak plasma vitamin C concentrations of 135 micromol/L, which are about two times higher than those produced by consuming 200–300 mg/day ascorbic acid from vitamin C-rich foods. Pharmacokinetic modeling predicts that even doses as high as 3 g ascorbic acid taken every 4 hours would produce peak plasma concentrations of only 220 micromol/L.
The total body content of vitamin C ranges from 300 mg (at near scurvy) to about 2 g. High levels of vitamin C (millimolar concentrations) are maintained in cells and tissues, and are highest in leukocytes (white blood cells), eyes, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and brain. Relatively low levels of vitamin C (micromolar concentrations) are found in extracellular fluids, such as plasma, red blood cells, and saliva.
The complete study “Vitamin C – Fact Sheet for Health Professionals”:
The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
References & External links
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- Carr AC, Frei B. Toward a new recommended dietary allowance for vitamin C based on antioxidant and health effects in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69:1086-107. [PubMed abstract]
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- Jacob RA, Sotoudeh G. Vitamin C function and status in chronic disease. Nutr Clin Care 2002;5:66-74. [PubMed abstract]
- Gershoff SN. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): new roles, new requirements? Nutr Rev 1993;51:313-26. [PubMed abstract]
- Weinstein M, Babyn P, Zlotkin S. An orange a day keeps the doctor away: scurvy in the year 2000. Pediatrics 2001;108:E55. [PubMed abstract]
- Wang AH, Still C. Old world meets modern: a case report of scurvy. Nutr Clin Pract 2007;22:445-8. [PubMed abstract]
- Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoidsexternal link disclaimer. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000.
- Stephen R, Utecht T. Scurvy identified in the emergency department: a case report. J Emerg Med 2001;21:235-7. [PubMed abstract]
- Padayatty SJ, Sun H, Wang Y, Riordan HD, Hewitt SM, Katz A, Wesley RA, Levine M. Vitamin C pharmacokinetics: implications for oral and intravenous use. Ann Intern Med 2004;140:533-7. [PubMed abstract]