I learned something new the other day that really shocked me. Ascorbic acid is actually a synthetic form of vitamin C! Did you know this? I’ve known for a number of years that ascorbic acid was not a whole foods version of vitamin C, but didn’t realize that it was actually synthetic!
This is a rather sobering realization as almost all vitamin C supplements on the market use ascorbic acid. Even more disturbing – ascorbic acid is frequently marketed as natural vitamin C. Truly natural forms of vitamin C and synthetic ascorbic acid seem to be used interchangeably. How confusing for the consumer! Nearly all juices and fruit products are loaded up with ascorbic acid, even many organic, healthfood store versions. It seems that if a product is labeled “high in Vitamin C”, consumers buy more of it.
A lot of folks are being fooled by these misleading semantics and there is a growing body of evidence that those consuming high doses of ascorbic acid should have reason to worry. The Winter 2009 edition of Wise Traditions cites 3 studies which give pause about large doses of vitamin C. The first study (from the Jun 15, 2001 issue of Science) showed that “synthetic vitamin C may contribute to the formation of genotoxins that can lead to cancer”.
A second study presented to the American Heart Association showed a link between consumption of only 500mg of vitamin C per day and a greater propensity toward thickening of the arteries (Los Angeles Times, March 3, 2000). Even more recently, athletes taking 1000mg of vitamin C per day showed reduced endurance capacity from interference with antioxidant enzymes (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jan 2008).
This information should give pause to anyone who is actively taking synthetic vitamin C supplements such as those Emergen-C packets that are available everywhere, from pharmacies to healthfood stores. Supplements like these are NOT boosting immunity and are NOT good for you! Synthetic vitamins such as ascorbic acid act more like drugs in the body rather than whole food nutrients with all the available cofactors. Taking any synthetic vitamin can cause imbalances in the body and should be avoided.
Another worrisome and popular trend is the recommendation of some alternative health professionals to do a “vitamin C flush” during illness. This therapy (if you can call it that) calls for large doses of vitamin C until the onset of diarrhea. This approach to regaining wellness has never made any sense to me and now, with more studies indicating the danger of high doses of vitamin C, my caution seems well founded.
The best way to get vitamin C is from a whole foods source, which naturally provides this nutrient at a low dosage. For example, the vitamin C we use in our home is a chewable, ascerola cherry vitamin C. Each tablet only contains 30mg of vitamin C! When you get the whole foods version of vitamin C, you don’t need much at all. A truly natural vitamin C supplement is naturally low-dose.
Don’t forget about raw milk – a great source of vitamin C. The vitamin C in raw milk is mostly destroyed by pasteurization, by the way (along with many other nutrients). Fresh and lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables (like traditionally made saurkraut) are other excellent sources of the whole vitamin C complex.
Perhaps folks feel the need to take large doses of synthetic vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid because all the processed foods they are eating are so devoid of the nutrient in its whole form? Switching to whole foods and dumping those vitamin C supplements in the trash would be a much better approach to boosting immunity!
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist