Subcellular Biochemistry

Volume 25 of the series Subcellular Biochemistry pp 1-16


Three Eras of Vitamin C Discovery
  • Robert A. JacobAffiliated withU.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service

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The knowledge of vitamin C can be classified into three periods. The scurvy era, from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, includes the recognition of the scurvy syndrome and the search to find the cause and cure. The second period, from about 1900 to 1980, includes the chemical isolation and characterization of the antiscorbutic factor, i.e., ascorbic acid; the demonstrations of the nutritional essentiality of the substance; and the metabolic studies that established the vitamin’s human metabolism and requirement to prevent scurvy. The last period, from about 1970 to the present, is defined by new knowledge of extrascorbutic roles of the vitamin, such as for antioxidant protection and immunocompetence. These new roles, possibly fulfilled by much higher intakes of the vitamin than that needed to prevent scurvy, were popularized in 1970 by Linus Pauling’s book Vitamin C and the Common Cold. The latter “extrascorbutic” stage opens a broad new range of interests regarding vitamin C and human health, as compared to the limited scope of the vitaminx’s antiscorbutic role.