Harvard Men's Health Watch

Vitamin C and your health: C for crucial, C for controversial

Call it ascorbic acid, and it sounds like a fierce industrial solvent that should be stored under lock and key. Call it vitamin C, and it sounds like something that belongs in every man's medicine chest. Call it an essential part of the human diet, and you'll be right. Call it a superfluous supplement, and you'll also be right. Call it what you will, but understand why vitamin C is essential for your health and why a good diet makes supplementary doses unnecessary.

Soluble C

Humans are unique members of the animal kingdom. Among other things, we are one of the few species that require vitamin C. That requirement was first demonstrated in 1747, but the vitamin itself was not discovered until 1932. Since then, scientists have learned an enormous amount about vitamin C, but they have not answered all the questions about it.

Vitamins are organic chemicals that are essential for the body's metabolism. Because humans can't produce any of the 13 recognized vitamins except vitamin D, vitamins must be obtained from food to prevent disease. Only tiny amounts are required, however, and a balanced diet can provide adequate doses of all the vitamins. The question is not whether men need vitamins (we do), but whether extra doses provide extra benefits.

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