What is Ascorbic Acid

what is ascorbic acid

Throughout history, people have made the connection between eating certain foods and enjoying better health, but it wasn’t until 1912 that researchers first discovered the chemistry behind those recommendations. When biochemist Casimir Funk isolated what he described as a “vital amine,” or vitamin, he solved a mystery that philosophers and scientists had been trying to unravel since ancient times.
One of the first vitamins to be isolated from food was ascorbic acid, a compound you may know better as vitamin C.

Is Vitamin C Ascorbic Acid?

The two terms are synonymous, so you might see either one on a product’s nutrition information or on the list of ingredients in your preferred supplement.

The Colorful History of Vitamin C

The vitamin’s fascinating history is contained in its name. Since ancient times, people have known that sailors were prone to a disease called scorbutus by the Romans, a disorder the English called scurvy. The term “ascorbate” literally means “without scurvy” in Latin. Although physicians didn’t know it at the time, the reason seafarers were prone to scurvy was their diet; eating nothing but fish, grains and preserved meats with no fresh fruits and vegetables meant sailors got very little vitamin C in their diets.

As early as the 13th century, explorers knew that taking citrus juice on a long voyage kept sailors healthy, but no one knew why. In the 18th century, Scottish physician and researcher James Lind tested other types of acidic foods but found only certain citrus juices effectively prevented scurvy, eventually leading the British Royal Navy to make lime juice part of every sailor’s daily ration, usually serving it with the sailor’s measure of rum. That supplement led to a common nickname for members of the Royal Navy: limeys.

Today, nutritionists know precisely why foods rich in ascorbic acid are vital to good health. Ascorbic acid serves as a nutritional supplement, an antioxidant and a naturally occurring food preservative. Now that you know what is Ascorbic Acid, let’s look at the ascorbic acid formula.

Ascorbic Acid Formula

Like most other common acids, ascorbic acid, or C6H8O6, dissociates in water to form an ascorbate ion and a free hydrogen ion. It’s a comparatively weak acid, but it is still an acid, which is why drinking too much orange juice, a common source of vitamin C, can give some people heartburn. The chemical’s tart taste is another by-product of its acidity, and you will notice its tangy flavor in chewable vitamin C tablets. In its concentrated form as a supplement, you may not notice the vitamin’s acidity, but common sources such as orange juice, grapefruit juice and tomato juice have a pH between 2.5 and 4.5.

Ascorbic acid is a relatively small molecule compared to many the body uses naturally. Proteins, for example, can consist of thousands of atoms in complex configurations, but vitamin C is fairly compact with a molar mass of 176.12 g/mol. In other words, a mole of vitamin C molecules weighs a little more than 176 grams. By comparison, the common fruit sugar fructose has a molar mass of 180.16 g/mol.

Vitamin C is the same chemical whether it’s produced naturally or synthetically. When choosing a vitamin C supplement, look for purity, quality and ease of use rather than how the supplement was made. All vitamin C is readily bio-available and soluble in water.

Ascorbic Acid and Vitamin C Deficiency

Vitamin C deficiency is common enough to have its own name: scurvy. Most people in developed countries get sufficient vitamin C to avoid the worst complications of the disease, but it’s still a problem in much of the developing world and among people who don’t get proper nutrition. People who smoke, breast-feeding mothers and young children are at greater risk of developing vitamin C deficiency symptoms. Scurvy starts with a general sense of weakness and exhaustion in its earliest stages. After a few months, connective tissues in the lungs and muscles begin to break down, leading to shortness of breath and aching joints. Teeth loosen as the gums recede, and in severe cases, mucous membranes start to bleed. People with scurvy may break out in sores. In its final stages, scurvy can also cause heart problems, jaundice and convulsions. Getting enough vitamin C quickly reverses early and moderate symptoms of scurvy, but people with severe nutritional deficiencies need medical care.

Benefits of Ascorbic Acid

For people with nutritional deficiencies or diets that don’t include many fresh fruits and vegetables, vitamin C supplements are essential, but some evidence suggests the vitamin can also have beneficial effects even for those who aren’t at risk of deficiency. Many people have heard that vitamin C can stave off or shorten the common cold, but evidence from numerous studies conflicts. Some studies, including a 2009 analysis published in the¬†Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, suggest vitamin C can shorten a cold’s duration. Other studies recommend vitamin C supplementation for endurance athletes and others undergoing extreme conditions as¬†report details.

Ascorbic acid is more than a vitamin; it’s also an antioxidant. Like all antioxidants, it has the potential to neutralize free radicals, charged particles that can do damage to tissues on the cellular level. Studies on how antioxidants help protect against heart disease, cancer and other illnesses via controlling free radicals are still relatively new, but scientists recommend eating plenty of foods rich in vitamin C, including citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, kale and broccoli.

Written by Felipe Gonzales. Posted in Forms of Vitamin C

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