A better understanding of the functions of ascorbic acid would help clarify the magnitude of the influence of this vitamin on health-related conditions. Many of the purported benefits require confirmation as well as a knowledge of the mechanism of action. The majority of investigations of the association of vitamin C with various types of cancer, with cardiovascular risk, and with cataract formation were epidemiologic studies. Often it was not possible to discern whether the apparent protective effect was due to vitamin C, vitamin E, or carotene, or to a combined effect of these nutrients or of additional factors. Human intervention trials may provide definitive and quantitative assessments of the role of vitamin C in health maintenance. We need to gain a more thorough understanding of the interactions of vitamin C with other nutrients, such as vitamin E and carotenoids, in order to appreciate the role of vitamin C in disease prevention. Investigators are increasingly recognizing the diverse functions of vitamin C in the body in addition to its role in collagen synthesis. However, the functional consequences of these many important roles of vitamin C remain essentially unknown. Excluding scurvy, the health consequences of inadequate vitamin C status are not well characterized. Nonetheless, epidemiologic evidence suggests a role for vitamin C in cancer and heart disease as well as in a number of other diseases.