Vitamin C, otherwise known as Ascorbic Acid, is a necessary part of the diet for primates, guinea pigs, and the Indian fruit bat. All other vertebrates are able to make ascorbic acid in the liver from simple sugar glucose. The process has four reactions; the first is when glucose goes through an oxidation reaction and turns into Glucuronic acid; the next step is a reduction reaction and turns into Gulonic acid. The third step is where a ring forms and turns into Gulonolactone; the finial step is another oxidation reaction forming Ascorbic acid.
Most people are not aware of the impact Vitamin C has had on the world. A pressing problem in the 14th and 15th century was scurvy. Scurvy is a disease caused by the deficiency of ascorbic acid, where the symptoms are but not limited to: exhaustion, weakness, swelling of the arms and legs, softening of the gums,excessive bruising, foul breath, muscle pain, lung and kidney problems. Scurvy was generally seen and recorded aboard ships because fresh food was scarce and what food they had turned hard and grew mold very quickly as well as the tight quarters did not help keep sanitation at its best. The impact of scurvy was great for Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1497 because by the time he had sailed around the southern tip of Africa only sixty members of his crew where left from an original one hundred and sixty. Because of all the cases of scurvy, remedies where trying to be found. One found was that lemon juice worked to keep symptoms of scurvy at bay. Captain James Lancaster was said to have kept a flask of lemon juice with him on his flagship and gave three teaspoons every morning to anyone who showed signs of scurvy. Even though this proved to work many ships did not have the space to store fresh fruits on the ship as it would take up cargo space needed for trade.
Vitamin C needs to be apart of our diet and we get it easier than people have in the past and we take that for granted. Thousands of tons of ascorbic acid are made each year to give everyone the necessary amount of this vitamin that is vital to life and has proven, through research,to help with the common cold. The discovery of ascorbic acid lead to curing scurvy that allowed ships to sail father away and discover more about the world. I think that overall the importance and the use of ascorbic acid has increased while the acknowledgment about what it has already impacted has decreased.
I believe Penny Couterur and Jay Burreson did a very good job in describing how ascorbic acid changed the course of history. The chemistry was laid out in an easy to read manner and straight to the point. One point in the history section stood out to me and made me agree with the authors. That was Captain James Cook of the British Royal Navy. Some of Cook’s accomplishments where that of the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands and the Great Barrier Reef, the fist circumnavigation of New Zealand, the first charting of the coast of the pacific Northwest and the first crossing of the Antarctic Circle which he could not have accomplished if he did not have a fit and scurvy free crew. James Cook kept his ship clean from top to bottom and especially clean in his crew’s quarters. Clothes were washed regularly and bedding aired out as well as the decks were fumigated. Cook kept his men well feed and stopped at port as often as possible to replenish their food supply and through all of this he never lost a man to scurvy.