Ascorbic acid

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Ascorbic acid is an essential nutrient in human diets, and is necessary to maintain connective tissue and bone. Its biologically active form is vitamin C. Primates (including humans) and a few other species in all divisions of the animal kingdom, notably the guinea pig, have lost the ability to synthesize ascorbic acid and must obtain it in their food. Ascorbic acid is an electron donor for enzymes involved in collagen hydroxylation, biosynthesis of carnitine and norepinephrine, tyrosine metabolism, and amidation of peptide hormones; its deficiency causes scurvy. The amount of vitamin C necessary to prevent scurvy may not be adequate to maintain optimal health. The ability of vitamin C to donate electrons also makes it a potent water-soluble antioxidant that readily scavenges free radicals such as molecular oxygen, superoxide, hydroxyl radical, and hypochlorous acid. In this setting, several mechanisms could account for a link between vitamin C and heart disease. One is the relation between LDL oxidation and vitamins C and E. Vitamin C in vitro can recycle vitamin E, which can donate electrons to prevent LDL oxidation in vitro. As the lipid-phase vitamin E is oxidized, it can be regenerated by aqueous vitamin C. Other possibilities are that vitamin C could decrease cholesterol by mechanisms not well characterized, or could improve vasodilatation and vascular reactivity, perhaps by decreasing the interactions of nitric oxide with oxidants. (PMID 10799361)

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