Check the label of high-priced products which claim to be a Natural "Vitamin-C-Complex."
These products contain ordinary vitamin C (ascorbic acid), probably made in China.

The Position of the Vitamin C Foundation on Natural Vitamin C and so-called Vitamin C-complex

Copyright 2006 by Owen R. Fonorow and The Vitamin C Foundation Permission to copy and redistribute in exact original form granted. Publications must include this copyright notice. Permission granted in all languages.

There are a surprising number of well-intentioned people among the alternative medical community who now believe that ascorbic acid isn't the real vitamin C. The dietary substances which causes scurvy when missing and cures scurvy when present is by definition vitamin C. Linus Pauling was unequivocal in his belief that the ascorbate fraction of ascorbic acid (called the ascorbate ion) is vitamin C. Referring to scurvy in his landmark Vitamin C and the Common Cold (1970), Pauling stated, "Ascorbic acid is an essential food for human beings. People who receive no ascorbic acid (vitamin C) become sick and die."

There is a growing school of thought among an unlikely foe of Pauling - the natural purists who proclaim that only vitamins gleaned from plants are the real vitamins. The views of these alternative healers, as summarized by authors Thomas S. Cowan, MD and Sally Fallon in their recent book The Fourfold Path to Healing (2004) is that the real vitamin C is "actually a complex of nutrients that includes bio-flavonoids, rutin, tyrosine, copper and other substances known and unknown." (Cowan and others 2004 p. 21)

Ascorbic acid, which has been vitamin C since at least 1937, has only a supporting role, according to Cowan and Fallon, who write that ascorbic acid is only present in plants "as a preservative for this complex, serving to keep it together in the plant tissue, preserving its integrity, freshness and color." (Cowan and others 2004 p. 21)

Cowan and Fallon even go so far as to say in this book that "ascorbic acid is not a food for us; that which it preserves is our food." (Cowan and others 2004 p. 21) Too much "synthetic" ascorbic acid is harmful, the naturalists assert, especially when not accompanied by the vitamin C-complex.

If the naturalists are right about the C-complex being the "real" vitamin C, then Linus Pauling was wrong in his reviews and analyses of more than 60 years of vitamin C science. There is massive scientific support for Linus Pauling's position that ascorbic acid is vitamin C. No scientific basis has been found for the existence of the C-complex or that such a complex can cure scurvy without ascorbic acid present. This assertion is proven every day in hospitals around the world. Comatose patients are kept alive using ascorbic acid only. There are no hospitals keeping patients on a feeding tube alive with a vitamin C-complex.

Those who are making the case for the C-complex and other so-called "natural" vitamins, are highly respected among the alternative community. Their stature prompted Berkley Bedell's National Foundation for Alternative Medicine (NFAM) to turn down funding of a study of the Linus Pauling's vitamin C and lysine therapy for cardiovascular disease. NFAM told the Vitamin C Foundation that they rejected the study because of the fear that ascorbic acid form of vitamin C might prove harmful to the study participants.

The following treatise represents the position of The Vitamin C Foundation on the true nature of vitamin C. The ascorbate ion, the fraction commonly found in ascorbic acid, or one of the salts, e.g., sodium ascorbate or calcium ascorbate, is vitamin C. This is the substance that when missing in the diet causes death by scurvy. There is no scientific debate about this fact. The scientific literature is so voluminous that few would be capable of digesting it. Part of the problem is that today's dietitians and orthodox nutritionists are taught to ignore much of the early research and medical doctors are not well versed in vitamin C either. Apparently this knowledge vacuum has opened the door to the emotionally appealing idea of a "natural" vitamin C-complex.

The Perfect Food Theory versus The Orthomolecular Theory

The basis for Cowan's, Fallon's, and other naturalist's arguments is that plant-derived "natural" vitamins, and vitamin complexes which are obtained from foods, are more wholesome and generally better for us than individual synthetic vitamins. The naturalists argue that food complexes are preferable because groups of these substances usually appear together in healthful foods, and because individual vitamins do not work alone in the body to sustain health.

There are at least two theoretical reasons why plant food may provide perfect nutrition for humans and other animals: Either perfect foods evolved from a mutual dependency between the plants and the animals that eat them, or these perfect plant foods were created by divine intervention. Either way, plants and their contents are the model naturalists look to for the best guidance as to what constitutes proper human nutrition. This theory might be called the Theory of Divine Food Creation in Plants or the Perfect Food Theory.

The naturalists are not wrong that animals evolved to eat particular foods. It seems likely that animals and plants evolved together, and in such a way that any plants which the surviving animals generally ingest does provide some guidance as to the nutrition that the animal requires. To obtain information about the foods that are best for humans, this theory requires the study of our ancestor's diets -- what they ate, not necessarily why they ate it.

On the other side in the Pauling camp, orthomolecular nutritionists, or orthomolecularists, might argue that during the course of evolution, immovable plants had different survival issues from the evolving animals, which ate the plants. Orthomolecularists' view foods, from the perspective of what they contain -- which molecules are required to sustain life, and which ones must be obtained in food.

Linus Pauling and other biochemists explain that there is no difference between a so-called "synthetic" and a "natural" vitamin molecule. Biologically identical, or bio-identical, molecules are indistinguishable from those synthesized by plants or animals. In the blood serum, the origin of bio-identical molecules is thought to be of little significance. Receptors on the surface of animal cells control the uptake of individual molecules regardless of how or why these molecules appear in the blood stream. Any complexes of molecules present in food generally disassociate during digestion.

The theory that animal biochemistry and DNA, perhaps more than plant biology, provides the better guide for optimal nutrition, might be called The Molecular Theory of Vitamin Evolution in Animals, or simply The Orthomolecular Theory.

The Myth of the Vitamin C-complex

"This was the first proof that ascorbic acid was identical with vitamin C, and that the substance's activity was not due to an impurity." - Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Nobel Lecture, Oxidation, Energy Transfer, and Vitamins, December 11, 1937.

Mainly because of the words "natural" and "vitamin complex," adherents to the naturalist view have gained many followers, and their views are often repeated by respected nutritional authorities. It is understandable why naturalists distrust modern medical science with its orientation towards potentially dangerous prescription drugs, but this is no reason to ignore science altogether.

There is no scientific debate whether there is such a thing as a vitamin C-complex. Such a thing as a matter of human nutrition does not exist. The argument for ascorbic acid as vitamin C carries as much weight as any argument in any field of science. Its sugar-like molecular structure was first isolated by Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, and the chemical shorthand is C6H8O6. Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi received the Nobel prize for this discovery.

No one who is engaged in conventional medical research believes there is a C-complex, nor are there any peer-reviewed papers accessible in the Medline medical database that support the idea that there is a C-complex, much less that it is the real vitamin C.

It is known that animals generally do not require vitamin C in their diets. Almost all mammals, and virtually all animals, synthesize ascorbic acid in the liver or kidney. While most animals synthesize ascorbic acid, there is no scientific evidence that any animal synthesizes the ill-defined C-complex within its body.

The previously mentioned book entitled Fourfold Path to Healing (2004), by Thomas Cowan, MD, with Sally Fallon and Jaimen McMillan, is remarkable for the number of false or unsupported assertions these authors make concerning vitamin C. Every sentence in the vitamin C section on pages 20 and 21 is either unsupported, or contains misleading or false information which they present as fact. The message these authors are trying to convey is that the natural vitamin C-Complex not only exists, but it is required, lest consumers risk clogged arteries and DNA damage.

Cowan et. al. begin their Vitamin C section on page 20 with the intriguing sentence, "Several recent studies have shown that taking synthetic vitamins can actually be harmful, thus challenging a practice suggested in virtually all other books written about health and nutrition over the past 40 years." (page 20) Unfortunately, one reason for their different advice is that they are wrong. The two studies cited made headlines, but both "studies" have been debunked scientifically by the Vitamin C Foundation. (See the Vitamin C Foundation on-line forum for our rebuttal to these two media reports, and for the complete description of the errors about vitamin C that have been published on pages 20 and 21 of The FourFold Path to Healing.)........