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Vitamin C

Vitamin C


Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is water soluble, white crystalline material stable in dry form. Much ascorbic acid is lost in cooking, but the loss can be reduced by cooking quickly in small amounts of water, or steaming foods with the pot covered tightly. Preservation is also accomplished via quick freezing.

Vitamin C has many functions: it can function as a coenzyme or as a cofactor in the body. It appears to be necessary for normal functioning of cellular units and subcellular structures. In metabolism, vitamin C functions to accept and donate hydrogen. Vitamin C also plays an important role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, compounds which allow nerve impulse transmission between nerve axons.

Production of collagen, a protein substance in fibrous tissue, depends on ascorbic acid. Vitamin C maintains capillary integrity through the production of an intercellular cement substance. This function promotes the healing of wounds, fractures, bruises, some hemorrhages, and bleeding gums. Additionally, it reduces susceptibility to infections.

Vitamin C helps to facilitate the absorption of iron and calcium, and it is essential for the utilization of folacin.

Method of Action

Humans absorb vitamin C in the upper part of the intestine. This is accomplished by simple diffusion, a sodium-dependent active transport mechanism. When megadoses are taken (1.5 to 3.0 grams) the absorption is only 36-49% at intakes of 12 grams, only 16% is absorbed. Unabsorbed vitamin C continues into the lower bowel and causes watery stools or diarrhea.

Intakes of vitamin C above 100 milligrams do not result in an increase of ascorbic acid levels. Immediately after ingesting vitamin C, the serum level is temporarily elevated. The level subsides when the excess is picked up by the tissues that store it, or is excreted. The highest concentration of stored vitamin C is in the adrenal gland; however, the liver stores the largest amount of the vitamin in the body.

Vitamin C is excreted in the urine after enough is resorbed in the kidneys to maintain a plasma level of 1.2 to 1.4 milligrams per 100 milliliter. Vitamin C plays a vital role in the formation of collagen by catalyzing chemical changes allowing lysine and proline to bind together as collagen subunits, adding structural stability to the "complete" collagen fibers.

Vitamin C is important and necessary for the synthesis of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin. It catalyzes the conversion of dopamine to norepinephrine and the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin.

Properties & Uses

Vitamin C has recently been the subject of controversy. Popular literature suggests large doses (one gram or more) may prevent or cure the common cold or influenza. Scientists are presently conducting studies to establish the validity of this claim. However, little scientific evidence supports the suggestion of taking large doses.

One study demonstrated vitamin C reduced severity of cold symptoms. A subsequent study indicated the result of decreasing symptoms was the result of an increased dosage at the onset of illness and was not due to an increased daily dosage during non-illness. Contradictory findings in a study of children indicated a decreased severity of symptoms with the administration of one to two grams per day. It is important to note these contradictory results may be due to differences in the vitamin C status at the beginning of the studies.

Vitamin C supplementation is beneficial for patients suffering from scurvy and its symptoms. Recommended dosages for these patients are 100 milligrams three times per day, with the alleviation of symptoms usually apparent in five days.

Consequence of Deficiency

Vitamin C deficiency is not common. Populations subject to vitamin C deficiency are alcoholics, people who consume a diet devoid of fruits and vegetables, elderly individuals on limited diets, severely ill individuals under chronic stress, and infants fed exclusively cow's milk.

Deficiency symptoms may appear the first month following deprivation, when the serum level has been reduced to 0.2 mg/dL. Scurvy is caused by severe vitamin C deficiency, with symptoms including: anemia, weakness, poor appetite and growth, tenderness to touch, swollen and inflamed gums, loosened teeth, swollen wrist and ankle joints, and shortness of breath.

Furthermore it may be observed wounds fail to heal or previous wounds break down, and infections develop easily in bleeding areas of the gum and skin. These effects are attributed to problems with collagen formation. It is also hypothesized vitamin C is involved in the blood clotting mechanism.

Psychiatric symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include depression, hysteria and hypochondriacal symptoms.

Smoking acts as an antagonist to vitamin C. Less vitamin C is available in smokers for utilization and storage, and smokers need twice the amount of vitamin C as the nonsmoker to show a comparable blood level.

Toxicity Factors

Massive doses of vitamin C have been implicated in "rebound scurvy," when the condition occurs after the cessation of administration of these massive doses. It has been hypothesized this is due to a high rate of vitamin C catabolism as an adaptation to hypersaturation. After reducing the vitamin C intake, the catabolism does not return to normal levels and this produces a vitamin C deficiency state.

Excess vitamin C excreted in the urine produces a false positive test for glucose. Excess vitamin C has also been implicated in the formation of urate and oxalate stones. However, current evidence suggests large doses (nine grams per day) produce only a small increase in urinary oxalate.

Tobacco speeds the elimination of vitamin C.

Recommended Dietary Allowance

ageRDA (mg)RNI (mg)
0-6 months 30 25
6-12 months 35 25
1-3 years 40 30
4-10 years 45 30
11-14 years 50 35
15+ years 60 40
11-14 years 50 35
15+ years 60 40
pregnancy 70 50
lactation(1st 6 months) 95 70
(2nd 6 months) 90 70

For over thirty years, Recommended Daily Amounts has existed in the United Kingdom. It has been used to measure the adequacy of an individual's diet. However, in 1991 the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA) gave forth a whole new set of figures upon the request of the Department of Health's Chief Medical Officer. Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) is one of these sets collectively known as "Dietary Reference Values." RNI is an amount of a nutrient that is enough for almost every individuals, even someone who has high needs for the nutrient. This level of intake is, therefore, considerably higher than what most people would need. If individuals are consuming the RNI of a nutrient they are most unlikely to be deficient in that nutrient.

Food Sources

AsparagusBeet greens
BroccoliCabbage (raw)
CherriesChicory greens
Collard greensCitrus fruit
Dandelion greensGuava
Hot chili pepperMelon
Mustard greensOnion
TomatoTurnip greens


Pauling Institute

Electronic Publications

NETKE SP, NIEDZWIECKI A, ROOMI MW, TSAO CS. Ascorbic acid protects against acute aflatoxin toxicity in guinea pigs. FASEB J. (Abstracts Part I; Nos. 1-3621) 9: 141, 1995.

ROOMI MW and TSAO CS. Detoxificadon of neurotoxin P-aminopropionitrile in neurolathyrism by ascorbic acid in guinea pigs. (Abstracts Part 1) FASEB J. 8: 406, 1994

ROOMI MW and TSAO C. Influence of dietary vitamin C on thermal aggregation and aqueous phase antioxidants in scorbutic and nonscorbutic guinea pig eye lens proteins. Annual Meeting, Assoc. for Res. in Vision and Ophthalmology . (Abstract Book 36 No. 4): 2442,1995.

ROOMI MW and TSAO CS. Tissue distribution of water soluble antioxidants in scorbutic and nonscorbutic guinea pigs. (Abstracts Part II) FASEB J. 9: 5728, 1995.


DUNHAM WB, TSAO C, BARTH R, and BERMAN ZS. Protection by dietary ascorbate of guinea pigs from neurolathyrism. Nutr. Res. 15(7): 993-1004, 1995.

HEMILAA H and HERMAN ZS. [Review article) Vitamin C and the common cold: a retrospective analysis of Chalmers'review. J. Am. Coll. of Nutr. 14(2): 116-123, 1995.

TSAO CS and YOUNG M. [Letter to the Editor] Molecular structure-dependent cytotoxic effect of ascorbate derivaties. In Vivo Cell Dev. Biol. 31: 87-90, 1995.


HARAKEH S and JARIWALLA RJ. Comparative analysis of ascorbate and AZT effects on HIV production in persistently infected cell lines. J. Nutr. Med. 4: 393-401, 1994.

HARAKEH S, NIEDZWIECKI A and JARIWALLA RJ. Mechanistic aspects of ascorbate inhibition of human immunodeficiency virus. Chem. Biol. Interact. 91(2-3): 207-215, 1994.

JARIWALLA RJ and HARAKEH S. Ascorbic Acid and AIDS: Strategic Functions and Therapeutic Possibilities. In: Nutrition and AIDS, pp. 1 17-139. (R. Watson, Ed.). Boca Raton, FL, CRC Press, 1994.

TSAO CS, DUNHAM WB, NEYASFHTA K, and YOUNG M. Effects of ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, and calcium ascorbate on urine pH. Med. Sci. Res. 22: 727-728, 1994.


CAMERON E and PAULING L. Cancer and Vitamin C (Updated and Expanded Edition), Philadelphia, PA: Camino Books, 278 pages, 1993.

HOFFER A and PAULING L. Hardin Jones biostatistical analysis of mortality data for a second set of cohorts of cancer patients with a large fraction surviving at the termination of the study and a comparison of survival times of cancer patients receiving large regular oral doses of vitamin C and other nutrients with similar patients not receiving those doses. J. Orthomol. Med. 8(3): 157-167, 1993.

McBEATH M and PAULING L. A case history: Lysine/ascorbate-related amelioration of angina pectoris. J. Orthomolec. Med. 8 (2): 77-78, 1993.

PAULING L. Third case report on lysine-ascorbate amelioration of angina pectoris. J. Orthomolec. Med. 8(3): 137-138, 1993.

PAULING L. Vitamin C and the common cold. J. Optimum Nutr. 6(3): 10,1993

PAULING L. [Foreword] Vitamin C: Nature's miraculous healing missile. pp. v-vi. (G Dettman, A
Kalokerinos, and I Dettman, compilers). Melbourne, Australia: Frederick Todd, 1993.

TSAO CS, MYASHITA K, LEUNG PY and YOUNG M. Cytotoxic effect of ascorbate and its derivatives on cultured malignant and nonmalignant cell lines. Anticancer Res. 13: 475-480, 1993.


ALI MA, PRAKASH SS and JARIWALLA RJ. Localization of the antigenic sites and intrinsic protein kinase domain within a 300-arnino acid segment of the ribuonucleotide reductase large subunit from herpes simplex virus type 2. Virology 187: 360-367, 1992.

LONG KP, MARCUSON R, MYASHITA K and TSAO CS. Urinary excretion of calcium, dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine in young women following ascorbic acid ingestion. Nutr. Res. 12: 105 1 1063,1992.

PAULING L. [Book Review] Vitamin C: Its Chemistry and Biochemistry, by MB Davies, J Austin, and DA Partridge. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 114: 3171-3172, 1992.

PAULING L. Vitamin C: the key to health (speech given go the Schizophrenia Foundation). In: Stop the FDA: Save Your Health Freedom, pp. 45-62. (J Morgenthaler and S W Fowkes, Eds.) Menlo Park, CA: Health Freedom Publications, 1992.

RATH M and PAULING L. A unified theory of human cardiovascular disease leading the way to the abolition of this disease as a cause for human mortality. J. Orthomolec. Med. 7: 5-15, 1992

RATH M and PAULING L. Vitamin C and lipoprotein(a) in relation to cardiovascular disease and other diseases. J. Optim Nutrition 1: 61-64, 1992.

TSAO CS, DUNHAM WB and LEUNG PY. Effect of ascorbic acid and its derivatives on the growth of human mammary tumor xenografts in mice. CancerJ.5: 53-59,1992

YOUNG M andTSAO CS. Medium-dependent cytotoxic effect of ascorbate. J. Tiss. Cult. Meth. 14: 133-138, 1992.


CAMPBELL A, JACK TC and CAMERON, E. Reticulum cell sarcoma: Two complete'spontaneous' regressions, in response to high-dose ascorbic acid therapy. Oncology 47: 495-497, 1991.

ECKERT-MAKSIC MN, ZS and MAKSIC ZB (Eds.) From Quantum Mechanics to Biochemistry: Hotwge to Linus Pauling 64: 289-575, 1991.

FLEMNG JE and BENSCH KG. Rebuttal to "Oxidative stress as a causal factor in differentiation and aging." Exp. Geront. 26: 511-515, 1991.

HARAKEH S and JARIWALLA RJ. Comparative study of the anti-H-IV activities of ascorbate and thiolcontaining reducing agents in chronically infected cells. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 54: 123 1 S - 123 5S, 199 1.

The Pauling Catalogue: Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers at Oregon State University (CS Mead, J Wallace, ZS Hennan and DB MunroEds.) Corvallis, Oregon, Kerr Library Special Collections, 1991.

PAULING L. Case report: Lysine/ascorbate-related amelioration of angina pectoris. J. Orthomolec. Med. 6: 144-146,1991.

PAULING L. Effect of ascorbic acid on incidence of spontaneous mammary tumors and UV-Iight-induced skin tumors in mice. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 54: 1252S-1255S, 1991.

PAULING L.[Letter] Respect for vitamin C. Science 254: 1712, 199 1.

PAULING L. Vitamin C and cardiovascular disease. Med. Sci. Res. 19: 398, 199 1.

PAULING L. [Letter] Vitamins and intelligence tests. Nature 353: 103, 1991.

PAULING L and RATH M. An orthmolecular theory of human health and disease. J. Orthomolec. Med. 6: 135-138,1991.

RATH M and PAULING L. Apoprotein(a) is an adhesive protein. J. Orthomolec. Med. 6: 139-143, 199 1.

RATH M and PAULING L. Solution to the puzzle of human cardiovascular disease: Its primary cause is ascorbate deficiency leading to the deposition of lipoprotein(a) and fibrinogen/fibrin in the vascular wall. J. Orthomolec. Med. 6: 125-134, 199 1.

TSAO CS and LEUNG PY. Response of human tumors to ascorbic acid and copper in the subrenal capsule assay in mice. In: Molecules in Natural Science and Medicine, pp. 493-507. (ZB) Maksic and M EckertMaksic, Eds.). Chichester, England: Ellis Horwood Ltd., 199 1.


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Baker, D.: Antioxidants Linked to HIV Infection. The Nutrition Report, April 1992;10(4):29/Cellular Antioxidant Status in Human Immunodeficiency Virus Replication, Nutrition Reviews, 1992;50:15-17.

Barinaga, M.: Vitamin C Gets a Little Respect: Some Researchers Say the Climate in This Controversial Field is Changing as Data Mount on the Role of Antioxidants in Disease and Health. Others Remain Skeptical. Science, October 18, 1991;254:374-376.

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Feldman, E.B.: Ascorbic Acid Supplements and Blood Pressure -- A Four Week Pilot Study. Beyond Deficiency: New Views on the Function and Health Effects of Vitamins, New York Academy of Sciences, February 9-12, 1992;P-9.

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