Natürliches oder künstliches Vitamin C?
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Natural or Synthetic Vitamin C? A New Substance’s Precarious Status Behind the Scenes of World War II
Today, thousands of tons of vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid) is synthesized every year by the pharmaceutical industry. Synthetically produced vitamin C is widely accepted as having the same physiological effects as vitamin C isolated from natural sources. This is an important difference compared to the 1930s when vitamin C was synthesized for the first time. The identity of synthetic vitamin C with natural vitamin C had to be established. First of all, the scientific community had to accept that artificial l-ascorbic acid and natural vitamin C were chemically identical and had the same physiological effects. Second, other communities like food manufacturers, military health officials, and the broader public also had to be persuaded that these substances were equal.
This article demonstrates how Hoffmann-La Roche, a Swiss pharmaceutical company and world-leading producer of synthetic vitamins in the 20th century, tried to coax its adversaries into supporting artificial vitamin C. In doing so, synthetic vitamin C was naturalized in different ways. In the case of Switzerland during the Second World War era, the mentality of national defense and the quest for products supporting autarchy helped to convince perspective consumers. Thus in order to sell a new chemical substance, cultural meaning had to be attached to it.