Chapter 2: Ascorbic Acid

Ascorbic acid, better known as vitamin C, has played an extremely pivotal role in our history. To understand the basis behind its impact on history, you must first recognize the molecule, and more specifically, why we need to consume it in order to stay healthy. Ascorbic acid, C6H8O6, is produced by every mammal with the exception of primates, guinea pigs, and the Indian fruit bat.  Somewhere along human’s evolutionary path, we lost the ability to produce ascorbic acid from glucose.  Gulonolactone oxidase, the crucial enzyme necessary to synthesize vitamin C, was not able to be made because we lost the genetic material that allowed humans to do so.

Ascorbic acid’s main historical impact comes from its known ability to rid scurvy from those afflicted by it. From the famous explorer Ferdinand Magellan in the 1500’s, to the sailor James Cook in the 1700’s, scurvy was one of the most deadly diseases to those daring enough for a sea-faring adventure. Back then, most foods that contained the necessary amount of vitamin C needed to combat scurvy were extremely perishable, thus on long voyages, the ships either had to restock and get a more fresh supply of these foods, or pray and hope that the crew did not contract scurvy, which was inevitable. James Cook however, kept his crew extremely hygienic and made them have a strict diet which most likely consisted of consumables with high levels of vitamin C that were not as perishable, such as lemon juice.  Although much animosity was held towards Cook from his crew for this reason, they had no idea how much worse it would have been had it not been for his strict regimen aboard his ship. Due to Cook’s enlightening methods, he was able to go on and discover the Hawaiian Islands, the Great Barrier Reef, complete the first circumnavigation of New Zealand, and cross the Antarctic Circle.

Ascorbic acid stills plays that pivotal role that it did during the Age of Exploration. There is research on its impact on up to forty diseases such as Chron’s disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, schizophrenia, and depression, just to name some of the big ones.  In addition to this, over fifty thousand tons (that’s a lot by the way) of ascorbic are artificially produced every year. This number represents just how greatly it impacts our society today.  Although it has, and still continues to deliver some very respectable results in medicine, it is still not completely understood in either the science or medical communities, thus it does not receive the amount of respect that I believe is warranted for such an influential molecule.

While I do agree with the authors’ point of view that ascorbic acid had a very prominent niche in the shaping of our history, and modern life, I believe most of their evidence and presentations of such just to be hypothetical conjecture. In the final summary, it mentions many points about the impact of the molecule, but fails to capture it with solid evidence. It has statements that mainly use “what ifs” or “maybe’s.” For instance, when it is talking about Magellan’s voyage, it constantly proposes hypothetical situations about what might have happened had Magellan not stopped due to his ship contracting the ever so terrible scurvy.  This leads me to believe that, as a reader, the molecule had no real important use in history, which is in fact, far beyond the truth. It does however, in some cases, provide some upstanding evidence when James Cook’s voyage and his accomplishments, are brought into account.

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5 thoughts on “Chapter 2: Ascorbic Acid

  1. alexanderkee413

    This review of ascorbic acid was well written and provided thorough insight into the historical impact of this molecule. Well done!

  2. fluffymonstah

    How much more passion can you put into explaining something when compared to the sentences this man has composed on the chemistry and impacts of vitamin C? I have fallen in love with this post and would like to marry it sometime in the near future.

  3. ianslamen

    I am impressed by this mans knowledge of Vitamin C. It is a well written and thorough piece of information that i believe is textbook worthy. Bravo!

  4. mrakashpatel

    This post on vitamin C was a joy to read; I mean look at dat history! I thought it could use some more chemistry, however, but that may have been all that was in the book (it’s been so long since I have even looked at that chapter). But other than that, great post! Your last paragraph just blew my mind the first time I read it, and after my mind had assembled itself, it self-destructed (don’t worry though, the doctors said the smoke coming from my ears would stop eventually)!

  5. I definitely agree with Akash and “fluffymonstah”. I was definitely not expecting that last paragraph to be soooo interesting!!! When I read that chapter, the idea of everything being theoretical never crossed my mind! You really paid good attention to the details pf the chapter. Good work Heston!

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