Concern has been raised that high levels of ascorbic acid consumption may lead to potential adverse effects, such as vitamin B12 deficiency, iron overload, and kidney stones.
To examine the relation of serum ascorbic acid level, which reflects intake, to serum vitamin B12 level, serum ferritin level, and kidney stones.
We analyzed data collected on a random sample of the US population enrolled in the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1976-1980. We analyzed data using linear and logistic regression models. Serum ascorbic acid, serum vitamin B12, hemoglobin, red blood cell mean corpuscular volume (MCV), and serum ferritin levels were measured using standardized protocols. History of kidney stones was determined by self-report.
After multivariate adjustment, serum ascorbic acid level was associated with higher serum vitamin B12 levels among women in regression models that assumed a linear relationship; each 57-µmol/L (1.0-mg/dL) increase in serum ascorbic acid level (range, 6-153 µmol/L [0.1 to 2.7 mg/dL]) was independently associated with a serum vitamin B12 level increase of 60 pmol/L (81 pg/mL) (P<.001). Among men, serum ascorbic acid level was marginally associated with higher serum vitamin B12 levels: each 57-µmol/L (1.0-mg/dL) increase in serum ascorbic acid level was associated with a serum vitamin B12 level increase of 27 pmol/L (36 pg/mL) (P =.10). In addition, serum ascorbic acid level was not associated with correlates of vitamin B12 deficiency, such as higher MCV levels, macrocytosis (MCV >100), or lower hemoglobin concentrations. Serum ascorbic acid level was not independently associated with serum ferritin levels. However, among women only, serum ascorbic acid levels were associated in a nonlinear fashion with prevalence of elevated serum ferritin levels (P =.02). We found no association between serum ascorbic acid level and prevalence of kidney stones in women or men (both P>.05).
Serum ascorbic acid levels were not associated with decreased serum vitamin B12 levels (or indicators of vitamin B12 deficiency), prevalence of kidney stones, serum ferritin levels, or—among men—prevalence of elevated serum ferritin levels. Serum ascorbic acid levels were associated with prevalence of elevated serum ferritin levels among women. Although the clinical relevance of these findings is uncertain, it seems prudent to suggest that women with a genetic susceptibility to iron overload should consider moderating their intake of ascorbic acid.