Ascorbate: The Science of Vitamin C by Steve Hickey, Hilary Roberts

By Steve Hickey, Hilary Roberts

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Ascorbate: The Science of Vitamin C

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In his book, Pauling presented a hypothesis with a basis of experimental support. Why was he attacked? We can only guess: perhaps the medics were upset that the book sold so well and caught the public imagination. Maybe they were jealous. Perhaps the drug companies were worried that people would use fewer cold medications. Who knows? Pauling was, however, a capable opponent. After decades at the peak of science, he could defend his corner. In the face of this challenge, the medical establishment closed ranks and since then, vitamin C research has been viewed as objectionable and largely unworthy of serious consideration.

At first, Eijkman did not recognise beriberi as a deficiency disease but, by 1907, he and his collaborator Grijns had concluded that rice bran contained a nutrient that is essential for good health. Eijkman’s findings led to the discovery of vitamins and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in recognition of his work. In 1906, the British biochemist Sir Frederick Hopkins showed that foods contained essential accessory factors. Hopkins fed rats on a diet of artificial milk, made from protein, fat, carbohydrates and mineral salts, and found that they did not grow.

He did not show that hexuronic acid was vitamin C immediately, although in his Nobel Prize lecture he states that he had suspected that the substances were the same “from the beginning”. He returned to his native Hungary where he recruited a young American researcher. ” Together, Szent-Gyorgyi and Svirbely carried out tests to see if hexuronic acid was anti-scorbutic, and, when they found that it was, they continued with the work in order to replicate the results. On obtaining a positive result, Svirbely communicated his findings to Charles King of the University of Pittsburgh.

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