by Andrew W. Saul, Editor

(OMNS Dec 6, 2013) Heard any­thing bad lately about ascor­bic acid vit­a­min C? If you haven’t, you may have been away vis­it­ing Nep­tune for too long. For nearly four decades, I have seen that, like all other fash­ions, vitamin-bashing goes “in” and “out” of style. Lately it has (again) been open sea­son on vit­a­min C, espe­cially if taken as cheap ascor­bic acid. Linus Paul­ing, the world’s most qual­i­fied advo­cate of vit­a­min C, urged peo­ple to take pure ascor­bic acid pow­der or crystals.

With­out hav­ing met Dr. Paul­ing, they are also what Great-grandma used when she home-canned peaches. Vit­a­min C pow­der remains cheap and read­ily avail­able on the inter­net. One-quarter tea­spoon is just over 1,000 mg. If you encounter a pow­der that is sub­stan­tially less potent than that, it may con­tain fillers. Choose accordingly.

I have told my stu­dents for a long time, “If they didn’t lis­ten to Linus Paul­ing, don’t be too sur­prised that they don’t line up to hear what you have to say.” But Pauling’s two unshared Nobel prizes (he is the only per­son in his­tory with that dis­tinc­tion) are no pro­tec­tion from crit­ics who slam ascor­bic acid C with­out first con­sid­er­ing some basic biochemistry.

Atom­i­cally Correct

Vit­a­min C is ascor­bic acid, C6H8O6, and that’s pretty much all there is to it. If you really want to impress your friends, ascor­bic acid can also be called (5R)-5-[(1S)-1,2-Dihydroxyethyl]-3,4-dihydroxy-2(5H)-furanone. As I liked to tell my uni­ver­sity stu­dents, now there is some­thing for you to answer when your par­ents ask what you learned in school today.

Even if this mol­e­cule comes from GMOs, which I dis­ap­prove of, it is still mol­e­c­u­larly OK. You can­not genet­i­cally mod­ify car­bon, hydro­gen, or oxy­gen atoms.

There are two ways the atoms can arrange them­selves to make C6H8O6. One is ascor­bic acid. The other is ery­thor­bic acid, also known as isoascor­bic acid or D-araboascorbic acid. It is a com­mer­cial antiox­i­dant, but can­not be uti­lized by the body as an essen­tial nutrient.


That word “acid” gets us going, but in fact ascor­bic acid is a weak acid. If you can eat three oranges, if you can drink a car­bon­ated cola, or if you can add vine­gar on your fish fry or on your salad, there is lit­tle to worry about. In fact, your nor­mal stom­ach acid is over 50 times stronger than vit­a­min C. The stom­ach is designed to han­dle strong acid, and nutri­ents are not destroyed by this strong stom­ach acid. If they were, all mam­mals would be dead. Have you ever noticed when you throw up you can feel the burn in your throat? That’s stom­ach acid. A lit­tle gross but we need it to live. Peo­ple who have a lot of prob­lems with hiatal her­nias or reflux can actu­ally regur­gi­tate enough acid over a period of months where they dam­age and scar the throat.

Vit­a­min C could not do that on a bet. It’s impos­si­ble. You couldn’t start your car if you put vine­gar in your automobile’s bat­tery. It requires sul­fu­ric acid, which is a very strong acid. The hydrochlo­ric acid in the stom­ach is only slightly weaker than car-battery acid. Vit­a­min C is almost as weak as lemon­ade. That’s a huge difference.


If you eat yogurt or take pro­bi­otic cap­sules, they end up in your stom­ach. There they are sub­jected to this strong stom­ach acid, and sur­vive it eas­ily. Aci­dophilus bac­te­ria, such as are found in yogurt, are lit­er­ally so named because they are “acid-loving.” Many stud­ies show that eat­ing yogurt and tak­ing other pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ments is a good idea and that it works. If a strong acid does not kill them, then nei­ther will a weak acid.

Fur­ther­more, your body secretes a highly alka­line sub­stance right where your small intes­tine starts, just past the stom­ach. This neu­tral­izes stom­ach acid and auto­mat­i­cally keeps the rest of your gut from being acidic. If the body can neu­tral­ize a strong acid, ascor­bic acid is vir­tu­ally irrelevant.


Ascor­bic acid can be buffered, and if you have a sen­si­tive stom­ach, should be. There are a vari­ety of non-acidic forms. I do not sell vit­a­mins or any other health prod­ucts, and do not make brand recommendations.

Don’t be bluffed or blus­tered about ascor­bic acid. It is cheap and it works. Aside from intra­venous sodium ascor­bate, the vast major­ity of research show­ing that vit­a­min C is effec­tive in pre­ven­tion and treat­ment of dis­ease has used plain ascor­bic acid. Yes, the cheap stuff.

Remem­ber what Ward Cleaver, TV father on “Leave it to Beaver,” said to his young son: “A lot of peo­ple go through life try­ing to prove that the things that are good for them are wrong.”

(Andrew W. Saul, OMNS Edi­tor, has taught health sci­ence, addic­tion recov­ery, clin­i­cal nutri­tion and chem­istry. He is the co-author, with Dr. Steve Hickey, of “Vit­a­min C: The Real Story.”)

To learn more:

Vit­a­min C as an antivi­ral

Flu, viruses, and vit­a­min C mega­doses

Are trop­i­cal fish get­ting kid­ney stones from vit­a­min C? They make so much more than the RDA

What really causes kid­ney stones (and why vit­a­min C does not)

Vit­a­min C: Which form is best?

The com­plete text of Irwin Stone’s vit­a­min C book “The Heal­ing Fac­tor” is posted for free read­ing at

How to reach sat­u­ra­tion (bowel tol­er­ance) with oral doses of vit­a­min C, by Robert F. Cath­cat

About Fred­er­ick Robert Klen­ner, M.D.

Dr. Klenner’s dosage table

Why the gov­ern­ment thinks Guinea pigs are more impor­tant than peo­ple

Levy, TE. Cur­ing the Incur­able. Vit­a­min C, Infec­tious Dis­eases, and Tox­ins. Hen­der­son, NV: Med­Fox Pub­lish­ing, 2004. Reviewed at

Paul­ing L. How to Live Longer and Feel Bet­ter. Cor­val­lis, OR: Ore­gon State Uni­ver­sity Press, 2006. Reviewed at . Linus Pauling’s com­plete vit­a­min and nutri­tion bib­li­og­ra­phy is posted at

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