Can ageing-related degenerative diseases be ameliorated through administration of vitamin C at pharmacological levels?
Man, with other primates, lost the ability to synthesize vitamin C through an inactivating mutation of the gene encoding gulonolactone oxidase (GULO) millions of years ago. Though the consequences of this prehistoric loss must have been favorable (and thus selected for) at the population level, the inability to produce vitamin C may have serious health implications for modern humans, especially for those conditions in which antioxidants (like vitamin C) have been implicated as potential therapeutic agents. Two general types of recent findings regarding vitamin C have made re-evaluation of this important nutrient imperative. First, vitamin C is now known to be involved in several novel physiological phenomena including stem cell differentiation and respiratory development, which likely require pharmacological levels of vitamin C. Secondly, the growing recognition that many ageing-related diseases, including heart disease, neural degeneration and cancer, may have a contributing oxidative damage factor that might be reduced by dietary antioxidants such as vitamin C. In this paper, we hypothesize that high serum-level vitamin C provides important, broad-ranging therapeutic benefits in treating ageing-related degenerative diseases. This hypothesis can be readily tested using traditional and newly-developed genetically-engineered animal models.