The cellular uptake of vitamin C (ascorbic acid, ASC) is promoted by insulin and inhibited by hyperglycemia. If a rise in plasma ASC is uncoupled from insulin replacement in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) then the degree of hyperglycemia could account for "tissue scurvy" in IDDM. Leukocyte ASC is lower in IDDMs compared with nondiabetics when vitamin C consumption is adequate and our data suggest that this is a variable component of the pathophysiology of IDDM. The complications of diabetes mellitus are believed to result from either the intracellular accumulation of sorbitol or the nonenzymatic glycoxidation of proteins or both. With respect to the abnormal cellular accumulation of sorbitol, vitamin C supplementation has been shown to be effective in several studies of adults with diabetes; the situation regarding the prevention of protein glycoxidations by supplementation is presently unclear. The roles of ASC as an aldose reductase inhibitor and a water soluble antioxidant in body fluids are potentially very important as adjuncts to tight glycemic control in the management of diabetes. Tissue saturation and maximal physiologic function in IDDM may require supplemental vitamin C intake.