Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a nutrient essential for human health. Because humans have no ability to synthesis vitamin C, they must consume it in their diet. Vitamin C is used in the body to make and repair connective tissue, metabolize amino acids and protect the body from toxic chemicals.
A molecule of ascorbic acid consists of 6 carbon atoms, 8 hydrogen atoms and 6 oxygen atoms arranged in the pattern shown in the image. Ascorbic acid is a sugar acid- a sugar (the ring of the image) with an attached acidic hydroxyl group (the upper left part of the image). When ascorbic acid is in the l-enantiomer form, it is called vitamin C. An l-enantiomer is one of the two symmetrically different forms ascorbic acid can take. These two forms differ in the position of the double bond which is represented in the l-enantiomer position at the bottom of the pentagon in the image.
The chemical structure of vitamin C was first identified in 1932 by American scientist Charles Glen King and independently by Hungarians Albert Szent-Gyorgyi and Joseph L Svirbely. Several years after this initial discovery, vitamin C was synthesized in the laboratory and was the first of the vitamins to be synthetically created. Mass production of vitamin C was in full effect by 1934.
Vitamin C is used primarily by the body for the production of collagen. Collagen is a vital building block of connective tissues such the ligaments, tendons, skin, bones, cartilage, and blood vessels. Several biochemical reactions, such as amino acid metabolism, are also dependent on the presence of vitamin C. Additionally, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which prevents the degradation of certain substances in the body.
A deficiency of Vitamin C in the diet can result in the illness known as scurvy, a condition that is fatal if left untreated. Thankfully, the chemical structure of vitamin C is the same whether manufactured synthetically or from natural sources. Supplements of vitamin C are among the most commonly consumed worldwide.
Vitamin C is destroyed easily by heat, exposure to oxygen or metals and light. Because of this high potential for degradation, vitamin C must be stored in a non-metallic container away from heat, light and air. Vitamin C exposed to these elements may generate free radicals, which are harmful to the human body.