Vitamin C readily scavenges reactive oxygen and nitrogen species and may thereby prevent oxidative damage to important biological macromolecules such as DNA, lipids, and proteins. Vitamin C also reduces redox active transition metal ions in the active sites of specific biosynthetic enzymes. The interaction of vitamin C with 'free', catalytically active metal ions could contribute to oxidative damage through the production of hydroxyl and alkoxyl radicals; whether these mechanisms occur in vivo, however, is uncertain. To examine this issue, we reviewed studies that investigated the role of vitamin C, both in the presence and absence of metal ions, in oxidative DNA, lipid, and protein damage. We found compelling evidence for antioxidant protection of lipids by vitamin C in biological fluids, animals, and humans, both with and without iron cosupplementation. Although the data on protein oxidation in humans are sparse and inconclusive, the available data in animals consistently show an antioxidant role of vitamin C. The data on vitamin C and DNA oxidation in vivo are inconsistent and conflicting, but some of the discrepancies can be explained by flaws in experimental design and methodology. These and other important issues discussed here need to be addressed in future studies of the role of vitamin C in oxidative damage.