We examined the effect of supplemental ascorbic acid on red blood cell glutathione. Subjects consumed self-selected vitamin C-restricted diets, and, under double-blind conditions, ingested placebo daily for week 1 (baseline), 500 mg L-ascorbate/d for weeks 2-3, 2000 mg L-ascorbate/d for weeks 4-5, and placebo daily for week 6 (withdraw). Mean red blood cell glutathione rose nearly 50% (P < 0.05) after the 500-mg period compared with baseline, and the changes from baseline for individual subjects ranged from +8% to +84%. However, the increases in plasma vitamin C and red blood cell glutathione were not correlated (r = 0.22). At the 2000-mg dosage, mean red blood cell glutathione was not significantly different from the value obtained at the 500-mg dosage. After the placebo-controlled withdraw period, red blood cell glutathione did not differ from baseline. These data indicate that vitamin C supplementation (500 mg/d) maintains reduced glutathione concentrations in blood and improves the overall antioxidant protection capacity of blood.