Vitamin C is known by several different names, including ascorbic acid, ascorbate, L-ascorbic acid and L-ascorbate. Ascorbic acid and ascorbate fulfill the same roles in your body. The "L" designation is specific to the vitamin's shape, indicating the natural form of vitamin C.
Supplemental forms of vitamin C are generally considered safe, but be aware that large doses may cause gastrointestinal side effects and interact with medications.
Free radicals are byproducts produced during normal metabolism, such as when the body synthesizes energy, and when it responds to sunlight, cigarette smoke or other environmental stressors. The problem with free radicals is that they're highly reactive molecules, so they're driven to connect with other molecules.
As they react with molecules in your body, free radicals can damage DNA, kill cells and produce inflammation. Over time, these changes contribute to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. As an antioxidant, ascorbic acid neutralizes free radicals, which prevents them from harming healthy cells.
Other Health Benefits
Eight enzymes depend on ascorbic acid to do their jobs, according to the Institute of Medicine. Several of these enzymes are critical for producing collagen. This connective tissue is found in nearly every tissue in your body, but it's especially important for building and strengthening bones, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels.
Vitamin C-dependent enzymes help synthesize carnitine, which is essential for converting fats into energy. You also need vitamin C to metabolize tyrosine into norepinephrine and epinephrine. When the adrenal glands secrete norepinephrine and epinephrine, they boost energy and put your body on high alert by increasing heart rate, blood pressure and breathing.
Top Sources and Intake Recommendations
Women should consume 75 milligrams of vitamin C daily, while men need 90 milligrams, recommends the Institute of Medicine. Pregnant and breast-feeding women should increase their daily intake to 85 milligrams and 120 milligrams, respectively. Toxins from cigarettes boost the need for antioxidants. If you smoke, add another 35 milligrams to the normal daily amount.
A fresh orange and a cup of orange juice deliver more than an entire day's intake of vitamin C. Red and green sweet peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kiwifruit, strawberries and grapefruit are also good sources. A 1/2-cup serving of each one provides 65 percent to more than 100 percent of the daily value, based on consuming 2,000 calories daily.
Health Concerns With Supplements
High doses of vitamin C supplements may cause nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. Other minor side effects such as headaches and heartburn have also been reported, according to MedlinePlus. Doses that exceed the safe upper intake established by the Institute of Medicine -- 2,000 milligrams daily -- may not be safe for pregnant women and children.
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids
- MedlinePlus: Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Antioxidants
- Union County College: The Connective Tissues
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Carnitine
- Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology: The Adrenal Medulla
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin C