by Andrew W. Saul, Editor
(OMNS Dec 6, 2013) Heard anything bad lately about ascorbic acid vitamin C? If you haven’t, you may have been away visiting Neptune for too long. For nearly four decades, I have seen that, like all other fashions, vitamin-bashing goes “in” and “out” of style. Lately it has (again) been open season on vitamin C, especially if taken as cheap ascorbic acid. Linus Pauling, the world’s most qualified advocate of vitamin C, urged people to take pure ascorbic acid powder or crystals.
Without having met Dr. Pauling, they are also what Great-grandma used when she home-canned peaches. Vitamin C powder remains cheap and readily available on the internet. One-quarter teaspoon is just over 1,000 mg. If you encounter a powder that is substantially less potent than that, it may contain fillers. Choose accordingly.
I have told my students for a long time, “If they didn’t listen to Linus Pauling, don’t be too surprised that they don’t line up to hear what you have to say.” But Pauling’s two unshared Nobel prizes (he is the only person in history with that distinction) are no protection from critics who slam ascorbic acid C without first considering some basic biochemistry.
Vitamin C is ascorbic acid, C6H8O6, and that’s pretty much all there is to it. If you really want to impress your friends, ascorbic acid can also be called (5R)-5-[(1S)-1,2-Dihydroxyethyl]-3,4-dihydroxy-2(5H)-furanone. As I liked to tell my university students, now there is something for you to answer when your parents ask what you learned in school today.
Even if this molecule comes from GMOs, which I disapprove of, it is still molecularly OK. You cannot genetically modify carbon, hydrogen, or oxygen atoms.
There are two ways the atoms can arrange themselves to make C6H8O6. One is ascorbic acid. The other is erythorbic acid, also known as isoascorbic acid or D-araboascorbic acid. It is a commercial antioxidant, but cannot be utilized by the body as an essential nutrient.
That word “acid” gets us going, but in fact ascorbic acid is a weak acid. If you can eat three oranges, if you can drink a carbonated cola, or if you can add vinegar on your fish fry or on your salad, there is little to worry about. In fact, your normal stomach acid is over 50 times stronger than vitamin C. The stomach is designed to handle strong acid, and nutrients are not destroyed by this strong stomach acid. If they were, all mammals would be dead. Have you ever noticed when you throw up you can feel the burn in your throat? That’s stomach acid. A little gross, but we need it to live. People who have a lot of problems with hiatal hernias or reflux can actually regurgitate enough acid over a period of months where they damage and scar the throat.
Vitamin C could not do that on a bet. It’s impossible. You couldn’t start your car if you put vinegar in your automobile’s battery. It requires sulfuric acid, which is a very strong acid. The hydrochloric acid in the stomach is only slightly weaker than car-battery acid. Vitamin C is almost as weak as lemonade. That’s a huge difference.
If you eat yogurt or take probiotic capsules, they end up in your stomach. There they are subjected to this strong stomach acid, and survive it easily. Acidophilus bacteria, such as are found in yogurt, are literally so named because they are “acid-loving.” Many studies show that eating yogurt and taking other probiotic supplements is a good idea and that it works. If a strong acid does not kill them, then neither will a weak acid.
Furthermore, your body secretes a highly alkaline substance right where your small intestine starts, just past the stomach. This neutralizes stomach acid and automatically keeps the rest of your gut from being acidic. If the body can neutralize a strong acid, ascorbic acid is virtually irrelevant.
Ascorbic acid can be buffered, and if you have a sensitive stomach, should be. There are a variety of non-acidic forms. http://orthomolecular.org/resources/pract.shtml#us I do not sell vitamins or any other health products, and do not make brand recommendations.
Don’t be bluffed or blustered about ascorbic acid. It is cheap and it works. Aside from intravenous sodium ascorbate, the vast majority of research showing that vitamin C is effective in prevention and treatment of disease has used plain ascorbic acid. Yes, the cheap stuff.
Remember what Ward Cleaver, TV father on “Leave it to Beaver,” said to his young son: “A lot of people go through life trying to prove that the things that are good for them are wrong.”
(Andrew W. Saul, OMNS Editor, has taught health science, addiction recovery, clinical nutrition and chemistry. He is the coauthor, with Dr. Steve Hickey, of “Vitamin C: The Real Story.”)
To learn more:
Vitamin C as an antiviral http://orthomolecular.org/resources/omns
Flu, viruses, and vitamin C megadoses http://orthomolecular.org/resources/omns
Are tropical fish getting kidney stones from vitamin C? They make so much more than the RDA http://orthomolecular.org/resources/omns
What really causes kidney stones (and why vitamin C does not) http://orthomolecular.org/resources/omns
Vitamin C: Which form is best? http://orthomolecular.org/resources/omns
The complete text of Irwin Stone’s vitamin C book “The Healing Factor” is posted for free reading at http://vitamincfoundation.org/stone/
How to reach saturation (bowel tolerance) with oral doses of vitamin C, by Robert F. Cathcat http://www.doctoryourself.com/titration.html
About Frederick Robert Klenner, M.D. http://www.doctoryourself.com/klennerbio.html
Dr. Klenner’s dosage table http://orthomolecular.org/resources/omns
Why the government thinks Guinea pigs are more important than people http://orthomolecular.org/resources/omns
Levy, TE. Curing the Incurable. Vitamin C, Infectious Diseases, and Toxins. Henderson, NV: MedFox Publishing, 2004. Reviewed at http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/2003/pdf/2003-v18n02-p117.pdf
Pauling L. How to Live Longer and Feel Better. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press, 2006. Reviewed at http://www.doctoryourself.com/livelonger.html . Linus Pauling’s complete vitamin and nutrition bibliography is posted at http://www.doctoryourself.com/biblio_pauling_ortho.html
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Editorial Review Board:
Ian Brighthope, M.D. (Australia)
Ralph K. Campbell, M.D. (USA)
Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. (USA)
Damien Downing, M.D. (United Kingdom)
Dean Elledge, D.D.S., M.S. (USA)
Michael Ellis, M.D. (Australia)
Martin P. Gallagher, M.D., D.C. (USA)
Michael Gonzalez, D.Sc., Ph.D. (Puerto Rico)
William B. Grant, Ph.D. (USA)
Steve Hickey, Ph.D. (United Kingdom)
Michael Janson, M.D. (USA)
Robert E. Jenkins, D.C. (USA)
Bo H. Jonsson, M.D., Ph.D. (Sweden)
Peter H. Lauda, M.D. (Austria)
Thomas Levy, M.D., J.D. (USA)
Stuart Lindsey, Pharm.D. (USA)
Jorge R. Miranda-Massari, Pharm.D. (Puerto Rico)
Karin Munsterhjelm-Ahumada, M.D. (Finland)
Erik Paterson, M.D. (Canada)
W. Todd Penberthy, Ph.D. (USA)
Gert E. Schuitemaker, Ph.D. (Netherlands)
Robert G. Smith, Ph.D. (USA)
Jagan Nathan Vamanan, M.D. (India)
Atsuo Yanagisawa, M.D., Ph.D. (Japan)
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