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Vitamin C terminology

A Rose Hip By Any Other Name

Vitamin C terminology is the subject of a recent e-mail, signed by
HSI members Ginger and Larry. G & L write:

“It seems to me that someone is missing the fact that vitamin C is
NOT the exact same item as ascorbic acid, ever though it is often
measured that way. The entire complex of C includes elements
that Jonathan V. Wright and others have written about often and I
feel, as a chiropractor learning as much as I can from the big guys
about nutrition, that there is something there that should be taken
into account. Comments?”

It’s true that the terms “vitamin C” and “ascorbic acid” are often
used interchangeably, but shouldn’t be. In the e-Alert “Attack of
the Vapors” (1/6/04), here’s what HSI Panelist Allan Spreen,
M.D., had to say about ascorbic acid:

“This is the standard form of vitamin C. Calcium ascorbate is one
of the salt forms of the nutrient (as opposed to the acid form). It is
usually synthetic, as are other forms, such as sodium ascorbate,
magnesium ascorbate, etc. It tends to be bitter, while ascorbic acid
is sour.”

And on the natural vs. synthetic forms of vitamin C, Dr. Spreen
again: “The synthetic vitamin C molecule is chemically identical to
natural forms. The difference arises in other nutrients that
accompany the C, such as bioflavonoids, which make the C more
effective. That’s not to say that I don’t prefer natural; it’s just that
it’s very hard to come by, and extremely expensive.”

“Attack of the Vapors” provides a compact but thorough look at
vitamin C, courtesy of Dr. Spreen, and can be easily found by
going to our web site (, and using the
“Search the e-Alert archives” feature to find e-Alerts on this and
many other health and nutrition topics. (In this case, just use the
keywords “Spreen” and “ascorbic” to find the vitamin C e-Alert.)

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute