The discovery of vitamin C

Ann Nutr Metab. 2012;61(3):259-64. doi: 10.1159/000343121. Epub 2012 Nov 26.


The term 'scurvy' for the disease resulting from prolonged vitamin C deficiency had origins in 'scorbutus' (Latin), 'scorbut' (French), and 'Skorbut' (German). Scurvy was a common problem in the world's navies and is estimated to have affected 2 million sailors. In 1747, James Lind conducted a trial of six different treatments for 12 sailors with scurvy: only oranges and lemons were effective in treating scurvy. Scurvy also occurred on land, as many cases occurred with the 'great potato famine' in Ireland in 1845. Many animals, unlike humans, can synthesize their own vitamin C. Axel Holst and Theodor Frölich fortuitously produced scurvy in the guinea pig, which like humans requires vitamin C in the diet. In 1928, Albert Szent-Györgyi isolated a substance from adrenal glands that he called 'hexuronic acid'. Four years later, Charles Glen King isolated vitamin C in his laboratory and concluded that it was the same as 'hexuronic acid'. Norman Haworth deduced the chemical structure of vitamin C in 1933.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ascorbic Acid / chemistry*
  • Ascorbic Acid / history*
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Ascorbic Acid Deficiency / complications
  • Ascorbic Acid Deficiency / diet therapy
  • Ascorbic Acid Deficiency / physiopathology
  • Citrus / chemistry
  • Guinea Pigs
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Scurvy / diet therapy
  • Scurvy / etiology
  • Scurvy / physiopathology


  • Ascorbic Acid