Is sodium ascorbate safe? | Inquirer News
Heart to Heart Talk

Is sodium ascorbate safe?

/ 09:13 AM April 16, 2012

UPON my return to the USA from a medical mission in Macebebe, Pampanga, I received an email from a reader, who is a practicing physician in Cebu, inquiring about the efficacy and safety of sodium ascorbate, which I know is widely advertised as “effective against a host of conditions, including cancer.”

In part, her email said “….Sodium Ascorbate preparations are proliferating here in Cebu, to name a few:  Health C, Fern C, and Vital C. These are distributed via the Networking way. In fact, I was one of the gullibles who took the Health C Tablet 3 times a day for more than 1 year, apparently without any good result, so I stopped it.”

Let us separate facts from myths and misinformation from scientific data.


What is sodium ascorbate?


Sodium ascorbate is a form of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) which is more bioavailable and “alkaline”, unlike the ascorbic acid form of the C vitamin, which leads to stomach upset in some people. However, the drawback is the sodium content of this preparation, which is 131 mg of sodium salt per 1,000 mg of ascorbic acid, enough to aggravate existing hypertension or heart failure among some of these patients. Also, in general, minimizing salt (sodium) intake is recommended for everyone, except for patients with diarrhea or other conditions where sodium deficiency is present. Sodium ascorbate is also used as a food additive.

What are the claims about sodium ascorbate?


The commercial claims about sodium ascorbate are exemplified by the following: ”Sodium ascorbate can reverse the development of atherosclerotic disease, helps in heart attack prevention. In addition sodium ascorbate plays a significant role in the elimination of chronic and acute infections. Moreover, it is considered to be an anti-cancer agent. Sodium ascorbate produces cytotoxic effect in an array of malignant cell lines, which include melanoma cells that are particularly susceptible.”

The pertinent ingredient in this formulation is the vitamin C in it and NOT the sodium or its ascorbate form, and yet the misleading implication is that the sodium ascorbate form is a “wonder drug.” This assertion (bordering on public deception) that sodium ascrobate has “that exclusive action” compared to regular ascorbic acid (vitamin C), is a myth, and could not be further from the truth. The main active ingredient in both is the ascorbic acid. The benefits they each confer to the body are the same.

The “special” formulation, which costs 4 or 8 times more, is obviously for marketing purposes, a gimmick that is part of the trillion dollar food supplement scam around the world, rampant today. If one needs vitamin C, ascorbic acid or calcium ascorbate will work just as well, minus the sodium and its bad effect, and at a fraction of the price also.

Who needs vitamin C?

All of us need Vitamin C for health and deficiency of this vitamin causes scurvy, which afflicted sailors on long voyages centuries ago, because their diet was

deficient in this vitamin for lack of vegetables and fruits on their ships. But today, as a rule, people who eat

normally do not lack vitamin C in their system. Vitamin C supplement is actually not necessary unless gastrointestinal problem, like mal-absorption, is present. Also, the multivitamin and minerals most people take once daily already contain 60 mg – 90 mg of ascorbic acid, which meets our daily need. Megadose of any vitamin is unsafe.

What does vitamin C do?

This vitamin is essential to maintain health of our skin, bones, teeth, cartilage, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is needed by the body to form collagen and also enhances the absorption of iron from plant-based foods we eat. Together with the other vitamins and minerals, ascorbic acid is important for those with macular (eye) degeneration. It is also an antioxidant that helps protect our body cells from damages from daily wear and tear, and useful for the integrity of our immune system.

What are the side effects?

Most people can tolerate vitamin C, in either form. Some may develop abdominal cramps, heartburns, nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, while others may be allergic to it, causing itching, swelling, dizziness, and some, difficulty in breathing. But these are not very common. In general, vitamin C (ascorbic acid or sodium ascorbate, or calcium ascorbate) are well-tolerated. When taken in excess, vitamin C will lead to nausea,

diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Among those with a

disease called Hemochromatosis, where the body stores too much iron, high doses of Vitamin C could result in worsening of the iron overload and damage body


What is calcium ascorbate?

Unlike sodium ascorbate, which has the sodium salt, calcium ascorbate is also a form of vitamin C, with

calcium instead, without sodium. The advantage of this preparation is that it has no sodium and provides the added benefits of the calcium. The calcium salt also

reduces the acidity of the free ascorbic acid, making it less irritating to the stomach. Many physicians prefer this 2-in-one form. Sodium attracts water and can cause water retention in the body, and aggravate high blood pressure or heart failure.

What are the sources of vitamin C?

The best sources of vitamin C are fruits and vegetables: citrus fruits, like grapefruit and orange and their juice, green pepper and kiwifruit, broccoli, tomatoes, baked potatoes, cantaloupes, strawberries. Some food products and beverages are fortified with vitamin C. Prolonged cooking causes great loss of vitamin C and other polyphenols/bioflavonoids in vegetables or fruits, compared to steaming or microwaving. Many of these sources of vitamin C are best eaten raw.

How about drug interaction?

Vitamin C supplements (pills or potion) could interact or interfere with medicines we take or treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation treatment among cancer patients. The mode of action is still unclear. In a clinical study, vitamin C together with other antioxidants like beta carotene, selenium, and vitamin E, was found to

reduce the cardio-protective effects of drugs taken in combination, like statin and niacin, cholesterol-lowering pills.

Before taking any medication, even over-the-counter supplements, it is prudent to consult your healthcare provider for guidance.

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