Two Faces of Vitamin C-Antioxidative and Pro-Oxidative Agent

Nutrients. 2020 May 21;12(5):1501. doi: 10.3390/nu12051501.


Vitamin C has been known for decades. It is common in everyday use as an element of the diet, supplementation, and a preservative. For years, research has been conducted to precisely determine the mechanism of action of ascorbate in the cell. Available results indicate its multi-directional cellular effects. Vitamin C, which belongs to antioxidants scavenging free radicals, also has a 'second face'-as a pro-oxidative factor. However, whether is the latter nature a defect harmful to the cell, or whether a virtue that is a source of benefit? In this review, we discuss the effects of vitamin C treatment in cancer prevention and the role of ascorbate in maintaining redox balance in the central nervous system (CNS). Finally, we discuss the effect of vitamin C supplementation on biomarkers of oxidative DNA damage and review the evidence that vitamin C has radioprotective properties.

Keywords: DNA lesions; anticancer activity; antioxidants; pro-oxidative factor; radioprotective properties; vitamin C.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Biomarkers
  • Central Nervous System / drug effects
  • DNA Damage / drug effects
  • Free Radicals
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Oxidants / pharmacology*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Radiation-Protective Agents / pharmacology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Biomarkers
  • Free Radicals
  • Oxidants
  • Radiation-Protective Agents
  • Ascorbic Acid