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Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid/Ascorbate)

Most animals and many different plants produce vitamin C, which makes humans distinctive – along with simians, bats, and certain species of birds and fish – among living beings that cannot make vitamin C. Fortunately, there are a great many plant and animal sources of vitamin C, making deficiency of the vitamin fairly uncommon in most places.

Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid; ascorbate is an ionized form of the same compound.

Foods with Vitamin C

The two foods with the highest concentrations of vitamin C include the Kakadu plum (Australia) and the camu camu (Amazon basin); however, these fruits are still relatively uncommon outside of their local areas.

Because Vitamin C is so prevalent in the plant kingdom, it is impossible to list all sources. The most common significant sources of vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits and tangerines
  • Tropical fruits such as kiwifruit, pineapple, mangoes, papaya and passion fruit
  • Peppers, including chili peppers and all varieties of bell peppers
  • Herbs like parsley, thyme, cilantro/coriander and dill weed
  • Melons including cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon
  • Berries like the goji berry, Indian gooseberry, loganberry, cloudberry and elderberry, as well as more common berries like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries
  • Alliums like onions, garlic, leeks, chives and shallots
  • Leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and cabbage
  • Other fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and potatoes
  • Algaes like spirulina and chlorella
  • Certain animal organs including beef, calf, pork, chicken and lamb livers, as well as lamb heart, tongue and brain
  • Oysters and cod roe

Milk from camels, goats and cows also contains small amounts of Vitamin C.

Vitamin C Nutrition Information

Vitamin C is critical for the proper biological function of the body. In particular, vitamin C is considered a reducing agent, which means that it enables a number of chemical reactions by providing electrons to other chemicals. Without vitamin C, many of the common functions of the body quickly become reduced, which can lead to severe medical conditions, including scurvy.

Scurvy (Vitamin C Deficiency)

Once characterized as a sailor’s disease, scurvy is now known to be directly caused by a lack of vitamin C. The condition has been described by writers as far back as early Egypt. The term ascorbate comes from the prefix a- (“without”) and scorbutus, a Latin word meaning “scurvy.”

Although scurvy has been known for millennia, the connection with vitamin C is very modern. The first association between citrus fruit and scurvy was discovered in the eighteenth century by Johann Bachstrom; however, it wasn’t until the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries when vitamins and other nutrients became better understood that scientists discovered the role of vitamin C in preventing and treating the disease.

The symptoms of scurvy can be mild or severe, depending on how long an individual goes without Vitamin C, along with other conditions. Early symptoms include:

  • Spots on the skin, especially on the thighs and other areas of the legs
  • Pale skin
  • Depression
  • Partial immobility
  • Gum disease
  • Bleeding from membranes

If the disease is left untreated, additional symptoms and conditions can develop, such as:

  • Tooth loss
  • Yellowish skin
  • Fever
  • Open, draining wounds
  • Neuropathy – loss of nerve feeling or function

If left untreated, scurvy will always result in death, usually from loss of blood. Fortunately, treatment is relatively simple, as it consists of eating foods rich in vitamin C. Supplements may also be prescribed.

Medical Uses of Vitamin C

The primary medical use of vitamin C is to ensure proper functioning of various chemical reactions throughout the body. This includes prevention and treatment of scurvy as described above.

In addition, vitamin C has been studied in relation to a variety of other medical conditions and diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic diseases and even the common cold. None of these studies have shown vitamin C to play a significant role in the prevention or treatment of any of these diseases.

Although vitamin C does not prevent cancer, it has been tested with some success in trials to help counter the effects of chemotherapy.

Other Uses of Ascorbic Acid

Because of its chemical properties, ascorbic acid is used in a number of other, non-biological applications.

Photography: Ascorbic acid is used in certain solutions used to develop film-based photographs.

Pools: Fiberglass swimming pools often develop metal stains from iron pipes. Ascorbic acid is considered a relatively safe and effective way to remove such stains.

Manufacturing: When creating plastics, ascorbic acid is used as a quicker, less wasteful way to create molecular chains than previous techniques.

Drinking water: When iodine is used to purify water, it can leave an unpalatable taste. Ascorbic acid tablets are sometimes used to help remove the taste and smell of the iodine in the purified water.

*This page is for informational purposes only and shouldn't replace medical advice.

Try some Vitamin C-Rich Foods!