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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Vitamin C in human health and disease is still a mystery ? An overview

K Akhilender Naidu

Author affiliations

Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition, Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore 570 013, India

Citation and License

Nutrition Journal 2003, 2:7  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-2-7

Published: 21 August 2003

Abstract

Ascorbic acid is one of the important water soluble vitamins. It is essential for collagen, carnitine and neurotransmitters biosynthesis. Most plants and animals synthesize ascorbic acid for their own requirement. However, apes and humans can not synthesize ascorbic acid due to lack of an enzyme gulonolactone oxidase. Hence, ascorbic acid has to be supplemented mainly through fruits, vegetables and tablets. The current US recommended daily allowance (RDA) for ascorbic acid ranges between 100–120 mg/per day for adults. Many health benefits have been attributed to ascorbic acid such as antioxidant, anti-atherogenic, anti-carcinogenic, immunomodulator and prevents cold etc. However, lately the health benefits of ascorbic acid has been the subject of debate and controversies viz., Danger of mega doses of ascorbic acid? Does ascorbic acid act as a antioxidant or pro-oxidant ? Does ascorbic acid cause cancer or may interfere with cancer therapy? However, the Panel on dietary antioxidants and related compounds stated that the in vivo data do not clearly show a relationship between excess ascorbic acid intake and kidney stone formation, pro-oxidant effects, excess iron absorption. A number of clinical and epidemiological studies on anti-carcinogenic effects of ascorbic acid in humans did not show any conclusive beneficial effects on various types of cancer except gastric cancer. Recently, a few derivatives of ascorbic acid were tested on cancer cells, among them ascorbic acid esters showed promising anticancer activity compared to ascorbic acid. Ascorbyl stearate was found to inhibit proliferation of human cancer cells by interfering with cell cycle progression, induced apoptosis by modulation of signal transduction pathways. However, more mechanistic and human in vivo studies are needed to understand and elucidate the molecular mechanism underlying the anti-carcinogenic property of ascorbic acid. Thus, though ascorbic acid was discovered in 17th century, the exact role of this vitamin/nutraceutical in human biology and health is still a mystery in view of many beneficial claims and controversies.