Vitamin C Works
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is probably one of the most highly publicized, yet least understood, of all of the vitamins. Championed by Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, Ph.D., and advocated by many nutrition buffs, vitamin C is indeed a fascinating and important nutrient (or micronutrient) necessary for human life.

In this edition of How Stuff Works, Dr. Jerry Gordon takes us on a fascinating tour of vitamin C, and shows why this vitamin is so important to your body!

The Basics
To understand vitamin C, we first need some information about vitamins in general. The word vitamin is derived from the combination of words: vital amine. Vitamins are organic (carbon containing) molecules that mainly function as catalysts for reactions within the body. A catalyst is a substance that allows a chemical reaction to occur using less energy and less time than it would take under normal conditions. If these catalysts are missing, as in a vitamin deficiency, normal body functions can break down and make a person susceptible to disease.

Vitamins are required by the body in tiny amounts (hundredths of a gram in many cases). We get vitamins from three sources:

  • Foods
  • Beverages
  • Our own bodies - vitamin K comes from bacteria within our intestines and vitamin D is produced with the help of ultraviolet radiation on the skin.
Vitamins are either fat-soluble or water-soluble. The fat-soluble vitamins can be remembered with the mnemonic ADEK, for the vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins accumulate within the fat stores of the body and within the liver. Fat-soluble vitamins are often associated with toxicity when taken in large amounts. Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and the B vitamins. Water-soluble vitamins taken in excess are excreted in the urine and are not usually associated with toxicity. Both vitamin C and the B vitamins are also stored in the liver.

It is interesting to note that most animals produce their own vitamin C. Man, primates (apes, chimps, etc.) and guinea pigs have lost this ability. Due to this similarity with man, guinea pigs have been subjected to experimentation over the years.

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