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When is vitamin C not vitamin C?

Written by Wellness Club on July 24, 2017 – 12:24 pm -

Nurse Mark Says:

Lots of people write to us, knowing that we are on the leading edge of medical news and science. Often it’s to ask about things that others have written – things that maybe don’t seem quite right, or things that seem to be in contradiction with our recommendations.

There are endless streams of health-related e-books available on the internet, many of them free, and most of the free ones are thinly veiled sales pitches.

Many of these books are little more than armchair theory or personal experience monologues and they contain little, if any  verifiable science. If there is a smidgeon of science in the piece it is usually something that the author has cherry-picked, misinterpreted, and/or modified to suit a preconceived idea or to support a product.

Rarely do these books provide verifiable scientific references to back up their claims. Often any references given are to other e-books or print books which contain similarly vague references or you may find out that all the books mentioned as references use the same reference, quoted over and over until it takes on the cachet of “it is common knowledge”…

One of Dr. Myatt’s patients, who is a voracious reader of all things health-related, recently wrote to ask about something he found in a free e-book: The book’s author claimed that ascorbic acid is not really vitamin C but rather just some sort of “wrapper” surrounding all manner of other things that the author claims make up “real” vitamin C. Wow! Wouldn’t Dr. Linus Pauling be surprised!

Let’s see what Dr. Myatt has to say about all this:


Dr. Myatt Says:

“The Calcium Lie Part II”

When I was young ( a while ago!), my Mom, Grandma and even me as a small child used to chuckle at my Grandpa when he would read something in the newspaper that was preposterous. We’d point out the folly or falsehood and he would say, “But it’s in the newspaper! They couldn’t print it if it weren’t true!” To which we would roll our eyes and laugh.

Fast forward to today. I have a very few patients (not many) who, if they see it on the internet, “know” it surely must be true. Don’t do this. Look for the references and proof.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to respond to every “the earth is flat” claim without proof. “Some doctor said he observed…..” gives a start place to do some “proof research,” but hearsay alone doesn’t constitute good science or medicine. So when I got an email from someone who downloaded a free ebook titled “The Calcium Lie Part II” with a statement saying “this guy said ascorbic acid is like the wrapper on candy” and not a single reference to support that claim,I’m having flashbacks of my grandpa…

Folks, please don’t believe everything you read without demanding references and proof. Haven’t I taught you better than this???

I’ve got ascorbic acid in Maxi Multi?  You betcha. It is the form of vitamin C that is the “real deal.” If there was something better, I would put that in instead.

Anybody can write an ebook and say anything they want. But can they defend their claims with references? Show me the reference that concerns you and I will surely respond.

Here is an authoritative (that is, scientifically substantiated) page from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon Health Sciences medical school that discusses vitamin C:

Vitamin C supplements are available in many forms, and there is little scientific evidence that any one form is better absorbed or more effective than another. (a references link for that statement is on the page at the above link)

The “other stuff” that occurs with vitamin C in nature are bioflavonoids. That’s the white rind part of a citrus fruit for example. Bioflavonoids have benefits independent of vitamin C. You will notice there are 100mg of bioflavonoids in Maxi Multi.

Surfing the internet does not constitute “research,” and just because someone makes a statement on the internet or in a book does not make it fact. I suspected the guy who wrote “The Calcium Lie Part II” was selling something.

The Vitamin C Myth (A Warning to the Health Conscious)

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid and L-ascorbic acid, is a vitamin found in food and used as a dietary supplement. As a supplement it is used to treat and prevent scurvy.

Vitamin C is ascorbate, chemical name 2-Oxo-L-threo-hexono-1,4-lactone-2,3-enediol.

In an effort to set the record straight – vitamin C is ascorbate only.

Most commonly, vitamin C is ingested as ascorbic acid (hydrogen ascorbate) or sodium ascorbate. Vitamin C also occurs in different mineral forms, including calcium ascorbate, magnesium ascorbate, and others.

The Marketing Myth of "vitamin C complex"

The claim that vitamin C naturally exists as a multi-compound "complex" has never been scientifically documented. Vitamin C does occur in nature along with other compounds such as bioflavonoids. Some of these other substances have independent health benefits. But vitamin C does not depend on bioflavonoids or other co-factors to work its magic.

Some individuals, usually operating on the "Wild, Wild West” of the internet (where you can make just about any claim you please) are promoting fraud. I don’t know if this is deliberate or if they truly haven’t done their scientific research, but you will find that they are usually selling a version of the mythical "vitamin C complex." This is marketing hype, not science.

The argument says something like "ascorbic acid is not vitamin C" and has no effect by itself. The one study usually quoted by the hypesters claims that some doctor found he could not cure scurvy — the classic vitamin C deficiency disease — by using ascorbic acid alone. Unfortunately for the hypesters, there is no study to this effect to be found in the medical literature but there are plenty of studies showing that ascorbic acid (vitamin C) does indeed cure scurvy — and helps a long list of other conditions as well.

Side Note: You can find videos on YouTube discussing the "vitamin C complex." Some of these are very professionally made and look legit. The problem is, they are simply slick marketing pieces. They are not based on any peer-reviewed scientific studies. I know it can be difficult for laymen to sort science from hearsay, but always look for scientific reference. If there are none, run the other way. Or else stick around and see what the marketing angle is. Just like printing it in a newspaper, saying it in a video doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true!

If you find their marketing hype compelling, please do your due diligence on PubMed, the compilation of peer reviewed medical journal studies. Type ascorbic acid, ascorbate, or vitamin C into the search box. You will find 14,000+ studies on vitamin C, the vast majority showing the many positive effects of this vitamin. None of those studies refer to "vitamin C complex."

All the scientifically documented effects of vitamin C have been seen and achieved using ascorbic acid or another form of ascorbate by itself. No ancillary nutrients, co-factors or "complexes" were used. Again, that’s over 14,000 studies.

Now for the "No B.S." (Bad Science) discussion on vitamin C

Some vitamin C products are marketed to include bioflavonoids. I put bioflavonoids in my Maxi Multi because they have independent health benefits. But vitamin C does not require bioflavonoids in order to work.

Natural and synthetic L-ascorbic acid are chemically identical, and there are no known differences in their biological activity. Human studies have not shown any additional "bioavailbility" of so-called "natural" or "food forms." Here are just a few examples from PubMed” – these would be known as “references.”

  • Pelletier, O. & Keith, M.O. Bioavailability of synthetic and natural ascorbic acid. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1974; 64: 271-275
  • Mangels, A.R. et al. The bioavailability to humans of ascorbic acid from oranges, orange juice, and cooked broccoli is similar to that of synthetic ascorbic acid. Journal of Nutrition. 1993; volume 123: pages 1054-1061.  (PubMed)
  • Gregory, J.F. Ascorbic acid bioavailability in foods and supplements. Nutrition Reviews. 1993; volume 51: pages 301-309.  (PubMed)
  • Carr AC, Vissers MC. Synthetic or food-derived vitamin C-are they equally bioavailable? Nutrients. 2013;5(11):4284-4304.  (PubMed)
  • Uchida E, Kondo Y, Amano A, et al. Absorption and excretion of ascorbic acid alone and in acerola (Malpighia emarginata) juice: comparison in healthy Japanese subjects. Biol Pharm Bull. 2011;34(11):1744-1747. (PubMed)
  • Carr AC, Bozonet SM, Pullar JM, Simcock JW, Vissers MC. A randomized steady-state bioavailability study of synthetic versus natural (kiwifruit-derived) vitamin C. Nutrients. 2013;5(9):3684-3695. (PubMed)
  • Jones E, Hughes RE. The influence of bioflavonoids on the absorption of vitamin C. IRCS Med Sci. 1984;12:320.

Finally, to be fair, one small study (8 people) in 1988 suggested a possible difference in bioavailability but this study has not been duplicated.

  • Vinson, J.A. & Bose, P. Comparative bioavailability to humans of ascorbic acid alone or in a citrus extract. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1988; volume 48: pages 501-604.  (PubMed)


Antioxidants and bioflaonoids are certainly healthy, but there is no convincing evidence that these ancillary nutrients are needed to improve the effect of vitamin C (AKA ascorbic acid or 2-Oxo-L-threo-hexono-1,4-lactone-2,3-enediol ).

Dr. Linus Pauling — the "Father" of vitamin C — found no evidence to suggest that additions to ascorbic acid improved effectiveness.

By the way, Dr. Pauling, a molecular biochemist, is the only person in history to have been awarded two unshared Nobel prizes. That’s two more Nobel prizes than the fellow who wrote “The Calcium Lie Part II.”  Just sayin’.

If there was a proven better form of vitamin C, or some ancillary nutrient that improved absorption or function, I would certainly tell you about it. I’d also make that the nutrient of choice in my own formulas. However, over 14,000 peer-reviewed studies have not been overturned by a couple of slick but spurious marketing pieces.

Oh, and that ebook that my patient wrote me about? I checked it out – and yup, it’s a sales-piece alright. Surprise, surprise…

Refences and further reading:

Buffered Vitamin C:

"Nobel Prize Facts". Nobel Media AB. 2014. Retrieved 14 January 2017.

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