A randomised double-blind trial involving vitamin C/placebo supplementation was conducted on 57 elderly patients admitted to hospital with acute respiratory infections (bronchitis and bronchopneumonia). Patients were assessed clinically and biochemically on admission and again at 2 and 4 weeks after admission having received either 200 mg vitamin C per day, or placebo. This relatively modest oral dose led to a significant increase in plasma and white cell vitamin C concentration even in the presence of acute respiratory infection. Using a clinical scoring system based on major symptoms of the respiratory condition, patients supplemented with the vitamin fared significantly better than those on placebo. This was particularly the case for those commencing the trial most severely ill, many of whom had very low plasma and white cell vitamin C concentrations on admission. Various mechanisms by which vitamin C could assist this type of patient are discussed.