Vitamin C: Time for a Change?

Do you agree with the suggestion to switch from the water-soluble vitamin C to the fat-soluble vitamin C ester, as proposed in the anti-aging literature?

– January 24, 2003

No. I don’t believe that there’s any reason to make a change from water soluble vitamin C to vitamin C ester, otherwise known as ascorbyl palmitate. This substance is a fat-soluble antioxidant used to increase the shelf life of foods, drugs and cosmetics. Laboratory research has shown that ascorbyl palmitate can protect red blood cells from oxidative damage, but there’s no evidence that this happens when you take vitamin C ester orally. Instead, it probably breaks apart in the digestive tract. The vitamin C (ascorbic acid) released in this process is no different in bioavailability from any other ascorbic acid.

The bottom line is that I’ve seen no evidence to support the much-hyped claims for vitamin C ester – particularly those that hold that it is better absorbed and used by the body. However, vitamin C ester should not be confused with Ester-C®, a vitamin C product that contains calcium ascorbate. While I find minimal scientific support for claims that Ester C is more bioavailable, mineral ascorbate formulations do provide some buffering when combined with other vitamins, an advantage only if vitamin C upsets your stomach.

The only area for which vitamin C ester appears to offer an edge is in treating the skin. Some evidence does suggest that creams which contain it may reduce the redness and inflammation of sunburn and thus protect against sun-related skin aging.

Despite all the hype in the market place for newer forms of this popular vitamin, if all you want is vitamin C, I recommend inexpensive, time-tested ascorbic acid (250 mg a day).

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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