Yes, there is a difference! And yes, you’ll hear folks use the terms synonymously. I do, but below I’ll share a bit of the thinking from both sides of the table.
There is a hot debate in health circles about the idea of calling ascorbic acid the same as vitamin C. Technically speaking, vitamin C is the molecule that is found in citrus and leafy greens, for example. It is typically with bioflavonoids and other nutrients within the food.
And the other, ascorbic acid, is the isolated active ingredient found in vitamin C. This is synthesized in a lab and sold in tablets and bulk powder. Ascorbic acid or one of many mineral ascorbates is what is found in 99% of all supplements that contain “vitamin C”. Supplement labels will say “Vitamin C as ascorbic acid” or “Vitamin C as sodium ascorbate”.
Vitamin C Purists would say we should consume as much vitamin C as would be found in an orange or similar food. They would say that it is nonsense, even dangerous, to take mega doses of synthesized vitamins. They would argue that the one is no way like the other and responds differently in the body.
On the other side of the table, there are those who say ascorbic acid is essentially the same as vitamin C. They would say you’d need to drink lots of orange juice or rosehip tonic to get therapeutic levels of vitamin C. The most convenient way to get the active ingredient in Vitamin C and at therapeutic levels is to take it in the ascorbic acid form.
The point I take is that using ascorbic acid or sodium ascorbate in large doses works with your body to effectively destroy viruses and bacteria. For me and many others, we don’t argue that they are different. They ARE different.
Another example is the difference between white willow bark and salicylic acid. White willow bark has been used as a natural pain reliever by native Americans for centuries. It has salicylic acid in it which was later isolated and manufactured in a tablet form we call aspirin. Whatever you may think of aspirin, it has had its uses and until acetaminophen came along was really the only thing which one could take to alleviate a headache or arthritis pain.
Perhaps the purists would rather I just call the powder ascorbic acid and never refer to it as vitamin C. Can we just agree to disagree? Pot-a-to… pot-ah-to
OK back to my regularly scheduled program!
According to the RDA, the human body only needs small amounts of ascorbic acid on a daily basis to maintain health. This has been established in the RDA food requirements to prevent scurvy.
But since the RDA only covers absolute minimums of vitamins and supplements it pretty much stops there.
sigh… I am assuming you are not averse to taking large doses of, ahem, ascorbic acid. There is a massive amount of info out there in support of taking therapeutic megadoses, I call “shock therapy”, and the man who discovered vitamin c and ascorbic acid, Linus Pauling, himself, took 30 to 100 grams (!) of ascorbates a day. He discovered that when he took large doses of ascorbic acid, he could alleviate if not stop symptoms of the common cold among other things. I’d say that if a man who was the recipient of not one but two Nobel Peace prizes could take such high doses, it’s safe to say we could, too.
So, let’s say you want to take massive doses of true vitamin C. That’s a lot of oranges, rose hips, and the like!
Therein is the difference: Therapeutic doses. If you look at ascorbic acid on its own, not trying to compare it to Vitamin C, it still has certain properties when introduced to the bloodstream, causes amazing changes. And the fact is, as I mentioned above, IV vitamin C therapy is practiced with great success the whole worldwide, using sodium ascorbate.
For the record, I call what I make in my homemade version, liposomal vitamin C, even though I use sodium ascorbate. I use the terms synonymously.
And hey, what’s the worse thing that happens if you take too much ascorbic acid?? Gas and diarrhea? Small price to pay to cut off the colds and cases of flu that are going around.
This comes up in a lot of questions from readers so I thought I’d address it here to the best of my ability. When the whole idea of microencapsulating something like ascorbic acid became feasible, experts all seemed to agree that straight ascorbic acid is too acidic to introduce straight into the bloodstream. So which form of ascorbic acid is safe and effective for this purpose? It turns out that Dr. Thomas Levy among others uses and recommends sodium ascorbate.
As a matter of fact, sodium ascorbate in aqueous solution is what naturopaths and physicians use for intravenous (IV) ascorbic acid therapy. (Yes, there are some open-minded but traditionally trained doctors who have learned that ascorbic acid “shock therapy” is effective in a multitude of illnesses.) Sodium ascorbate is a buffered form of ascorbic acid and sodium bicarbonate.
If you have looked into making your own liposomal vitamin C you have learned that early versions of homemade liposomal vitamin C use ascorbic acid and sodium bicarbonate. Just a little light research would lead you to learn that sodium ascorbate is the result of combining ascorbic acid and sodium bicarbonate. Since you can buy it already buffered as sodium ascorbate so it saves the extra steps of buffering it yourself.