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What is Ascorbic Acid?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Ascorbic acid is known for its antioxidant properties. It is a molecular bond of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Most people are familiar with L-ascorbic acid, more commonly referred to as vitamin C.

When not in vitamin C form, ascorbic acid may be used in solutions to develop film. It oxidizes easily, but prevents the destruction of various cells - hence the term antioxidant. It must be stored in a cool dark place. It also oxidizes in the presence of metals, so it should not be stored in any type of metal container.

As vitamin C, ascorbic acid was once invaluable in preventing diseases like scurvy, caused by lengthy ship voyages. To combat scurvy, sailors and passengers were often given oranges, which are high in vitamin C. While most animals synthesize this acid naturally, humans and primates do not. For this reason, supplementation is required, generally available through food sources. Along with citrus fruits, broccoli, spinach, and cranberries are all excellent sources of ascorbic acid.

Since the discovery that ascorbic acid could prevent scurvy, modern natural food manufacturers have sought to market vitamin C in tablet form. Vitamin C is also a frequent addition to fruit juices. There has been much debate over the ability of vitamin C to prevent the common cold. While for years, natural foods manufacturers insisted that taking large amounts of vitamin C could actually shorten cold duration, the final result of clinical trials suggests that vitamin C reduces the cold by little more than half a day.

However, when vitamin C is combined with zinc, it has a tendency to reduce the number of days a cold lasts, largely due to the properties in zinc. Fortunately, vitamin C does not have a high rate of toxicity, even at very high doses. Therefore, while taking large doses may not improve one’s cold, it is also not likely to harm one in any way.

Ascorbic acid is essential to the body’s processes, and all humans must consume it through either food or supplementation. Vitamin C helps to produce collagen. It is also vital in the production of dopamine and adrenaline, and necessary to the function of almost all major organs.

Low levels of ascorbic acid can result in loose teeth, anemia, inability to heal quickly, and easier bruising. In general, though, people with fairly healthy diets get enough of this substance without supplementation. When a person's diet is low in vitamin C, supplementation should be considered to promote overall health.

Since most cooking methods deplete the content of vitamin C, one of the best methods for adding it to one’s diet is to eat citrus fruits raw, or to very lightly cook green vegetables like broccoli. Spinach salad is a tasty way to add more vitamin C to your diet. Vitamin C has recently been added not just to many foods, but also to many cosmetic products, particularly skin creams marketed as “anti-aging.” It is too early to tell if these products are effective, though some users feel they are quite beneficial.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon137522 — On Dec 28, 2010

how does vitamin c helps in collagen production into body? what is the mechanism?

By anon121730 — On Oct 25, 2010

how many titratable protons are in ascorbic acid?

By anon112617 — On Sep 21, 2010

Vitamin C IS ascorbate acid. There is no natural vitamin C complex. Naturalists usually say that plants produce "natural" vitamin C however, animals make their own in the liver from glucose and that is the proof that bioflavonoids or similar are not part of the "vitamin C complex."

By anon90273 — On Jun 15, 2010

Why would a presence OF Ascorbic Acid in a urine specimen interfere with the urinalysis test? bilirubin and glucose?

By anon44058 — On Sep 04, 2009

Why do some fruits have a higher content of vitamin C than others?

By anon20036 — On Oct 24, 2008

I would like to know what is absorbic acid, as from my understanding it is not vitamin c this is just a marketing ploy - as its in fact a chemical compound which is man made. Its just chemical after chemical which is then marketed as vitamin c - but not actually!

Vitamin C occurs naturally in nature, in fresh fruit and vegetables, however we are told that vitamin c is absorbic acid? When its clearly not and by the way the higher the dose dose not mean better - as vitamin c is a water solb vitamin - so what we don't need get urinated out.

By anon16415 — On Aug 05, 2008

I am canning peaches. In the past I used fruit fresh. I have been informed that it is now discontinued. I was advised to use ascorbic acid. The person did not know about amounts. Do you have any information on this. thanks Diane

By anon286 — On Apr 20, 2007

I am looking for a supplier of L- ascorbic acid. In the past I have used the brand Solgar which has now been discontinued in Canada. It would be too costly to import it from the United States, and I would be interested in finding a supplier in Toronto Ontario or some parts near in Canada. My name is [name removed by editor] and I can be reached at area code [phone number removed by editor] If long distance charges apply please call collect thank you

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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