Ascorbic acid, otherwise known as vitamin C, is a substance present in many food and health products. It has made a name for itself as an all-around vitamin with its multiple, beneficial properties. Ascorbic acid has been shown to have positive effects against cancer, cardiovascular disease, and aging, to name a few. It is primarily because of these benefits that health supplements containing ascorbic acid have become largely in demand and therefore, produced in mass amounts by pharmaceutical companies.
Unbeknownst to the public, ascorbic acid exists in two distinct forms: L-ascorbic acid and D-ascorbic acid. The main difference between them is that the body absorbs L-ascorbic acid but cannot do so with D-ascorbic acid so it just flushes it out of the system. For that reason, L-ascorbic acid is the form of vitamin C that is vital to basic cellular and bodily functions.
A study titled Analysis of L- and D-ascorbic acid in fruits and fruitdrinks by HPLC provided further explanation. The study stated that D-ascorbic acid is not biologically active and has limited antiscorbutic properties. The research team reported that S-ascorbic acid was only 20% as effective as L-ascorbic acid in growth enhancement of human leukemic cells. “A dose-response study was performed comparing LAA and DAA. Over a wide range of concentration DAA was shown to be consistently less effective than LAA. This finding demonstrates that this enhancing effect is truly biological in nature,” the researchers said.
Generally, the level of purity of an active ingredient in products is conversely proportional to its potency and stability. In other words, the purer the ascorbic acid (in the form of L-ascorbic acid), the more effective the product will be.
The sad reality is that most companies that sell vitamin C are cutting corners in their production process due to competitive pricing in the market. What happens now is that consumers are getting cheaper, watered-down versions of ascorbic acid unknowingly. The average consumer being unaware of the difference or even existence of the L- and D- forms of ascorbic acid does nothing to help matters. Moreover, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not include purity levels as a requirement on labels of vitamins, supplements and any other health products.
With this new information in mind, consumers must learn to be more discerning when it comes to the composition of the ascorbic acid supplements they’re purchasing from now on. Sure, products with purer concentration of L-ascorbic acid are considerably more expensive than average but as far as health is concerned, quality should never be sacrificed.