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Reflections on vitamin C and hidden scurvy.

My own interest in ascorbic acid centered on its role in vegetable respiration and defense mechanisms. I always had the feeling that not enough use was made of it for supporting public health. The reasons were rather complex. The medical profession itself took a wrong view and a narrow one. The reasoning: Lack of ascorbic acid caused scurvy, so if there were no scurvy (apparent), there was no lack of ascorbic acid.

The only trouble with this logic was that scurvy is not a first symptom of lack but a final collapse, a premortal syndrome, and there is very little gap between scurvy and full health. But no one knows what full health is! This could be determined only by wide statistical studies, but there is no organization that could or would arrange such studies.

Full health, in my opinion, is the condition in which we fell best and show the greatest resistance to disease. This leads us into statistics that demand organization. If you do not have sufficient vitamins and get a cold, and eventually pneumonia, your diagnosis will not be "lack of ascorbic acid" but pneumonia. So you are waylaid immediately.

On my last visit to Sweden, I was told that the final evidence has been found that ascorbic acid is quite harmless. An insane person had an obsessional idea that he needed tremendous amounts of ascorbic acid, so he swallowed incredible amounts of it over a long period of time without suffering any ill effects.

Individual needs for vitamin C vary from person to person. Some may need high doses, others may be able to get along with less. I remember may contact with one of the wealthiest royal families of Europe. A young prince had constant fever and poor health. On administration of small quantities of vitamin C, the condition cleared up shortly afterward.

Biographical note:

Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi was the first scientist to discover that a substance secreted by the adrenal glands was identical to crystals he isolated from oranges and cabbages.

With the pure crystals of ascorbic acid available, the chemical structure was easily determined. Soon after, synthetic production of vitamin C began.

Linus Pauling has been quoted as saying that synthetic vitamin C, unlike some other non-natural vitamins, can be just as effective as the substance derived from foods.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi was honored and bestowed the Nobel Prize for his biochemical discoveries. Sir Walter Haworth, an English chemist, also received an award for his research on the chemical structure and synthesis of ascorbic acid.
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Author:Szent-Gyorgyi, Albert
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Mar 22, 1992
Previous Article:A short history of scurvy.
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