Vitamin C as an Antioxidant: Evaluation of Its Role in Disease Prevention

Molecular and Clinical Nutrition Section, Digestive Diseases Branch, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.
Journal of the American College of Nutrition (Impact Factor: 1.45). 03/2003; 22(1):18-35. DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2003.10719272
Source: PubMed


Vitamin C in humans must be ingested for survival. Vitamin C is an electron donor, and this property accounts for all its known functions. As an electron donor, vitamin C is a potent water-soluble antioxidant in humans. Antioxidant effects of vitamin C have been demonstrated in many experiments in vitro. Human diseases such as atherosclerosis and cancer might occur in part from oxidant damage to tissues. Oxidation of lipids, proteins and DNA results in specific oxidation products that can be measured in the laboratory. While these biomarkers of oxidation have been measured in humans, such assays have not yet been validated or standardized, and the relationship of oxidant markers to human disease conditions is not clear. Epidemiological studies show that diets high in fruits and vegetables are associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer, and with increased longevity. Whether these protective effects are directly attributable to vitamin C is not known. Intervention studies with vitamin C have shown no change in markers of oxidation or clinical benefit. Dose concentration studies of vitamin C in healthy people showed a sigmoidal relationship between oral dose and plasma and tissue vitamin C concentrations. Hence, optimal dosing is critical to intervention studies using vitamin C. Ideally, future studies of antioxidant actions of vitamin C should target selected patient groups. These groups should be known to have increased oxidative damage as assessed by a reliable biomarker or should have high morbidity and mortality due to diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by oxidant damage.

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