Vitamin C: A Concentration-Function Approach Yields Pharmacology and Therapeutic Discoveries
A concentration-function approach to vitamin C (ascorbate) has yielded new physiology and pharmacology discoveries. To determine the range of vitamin C concentrations possible in humans, pharmacokinetics studies were conducted. They showed that when vitamin C is ingested by mouth, plasma and tissue concentrations are tightly controlled by at least 3 mechanisms in healthy humans: absorption, tissue accumulation, and renal reabsorption. A 4th mechanism, rate of utilization, may be important in disease. With ingested amounts found in foods, vitamin C plasma concentrations do not exceed 100 mmol/L. Even with supplementation approaching maximally tolerated doses, ascorbate plasma concentrations are always <250 mmol/L and frequently <150 mmol/L. By contrast, when ascorbate is i.v. injected, tight control is bypassed until excess ascorbate is eliminated by glomerular filtration and renal excretion. With i.v. infusion, pharmacologic ascorbate concentrations of 25–30 mmol/L are safely achieved. Pharmacologic ascorbate can act as a pro-drug for hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) formation, which can lead to extracellular fluid at concentrations as high as 200 mmol/L. Pharmacologic ascorbate can elicit cytotoxicity toward cancer cells and slow the growth of tumors in experimental murine models. The effects of pharmacologic ascorbate should be further studied in diseases, such as cancer and infections, which may respond to generation of reactive oxygen species via H2O2. Adv. Nutr. 2: 78–88, 2011.