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Vitamin C

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Vitamin C or L-ascorbate is an essential nutrient for higher primates, and a small number of other species. The presence of ascorbate is required for a range of essential metabolic reactions in all animals and in plants and is made internally by almost all organisms, humans being one notable exception. It is widely known as the vitamin whose deficiency causes scurvy in humans. It is also widely used as a food additive.

An adult goat, a typical example of a vitamin C-producing animal, will manufacture more than 13,000 mg of vitamin C per day in normal health and the biosynthesis will increase "many fold under stress". Trauma or injury has also been demonstrated to also use up large quantities of vitamin C in humans. Some microorganisms such as the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae have been shown to be able to synthesize vitamin C from simple sugars.

Lind's work was slow to be noticed, partly because he gave conflicting evidence within the book, and partly because the British admiralty saw care for the well-being of crews as a sign of weakness. In addition, fresh fruit was very expensive to keep on board, whereas boiling it down to juice allowed easy storage but destroyed the vitamin (especially if boiled in copper kettles). Ship captains assumed wrongly that Lind's suggestions didn't work because those juices failed to cure scurvy.

Probably the most controversial issue, the putative role of ascorbate in the management of AIDS, is still unresolved, more than 16 years after the landmark study published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (USA) showing that non toxic doses of ascorbate suppress HIV replication in vitro. Other studies expanded on those results, but still, no large scale trials have yet been conducted.

Dehydroascorbic acid, the main form of oxidized Vitamin C in the body, was shown to reduce neurological deficits and mortality following stroke, due to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, while "the antioxidant ascorbic acid (AA) or vitamin C does not penetrate the blood-brain barrier". In this study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2001, the authors concluded that such "a pharmacological strategy to increase cerebral levels of ascorbate in stroke has tremendous potential to represent the timely translation of basic research into a relevant therapy for thromboembolic stroke in humans". No such "relevant therapies" are available yet and no clinical trials have been planned.

While being harmless in most typical quantities, as with all substances to which the human body is exposed, vitamin C can still cause harm under certain conditions.

When taken in large doses, vitamin C causes diarrhea. In one trial, doses up to 6 grams of ascorbic acid were given to 29 infants, 93 children of preschool and school age, and 20 adults for more than 1400 days. With the higher doses, toxic manifestations were observed in five adults and four infants. The signs and symptoms in adults were nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, flushing of the face, headache, fatigue and disturbed sleep. The main toxic reactions in the infants were skin rashes.


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