Plant L-ascorbic acid: chemistry, function, metabolism, bioavailability and effects of processing

MW Davey, M Van Montagu, D Inze, M Sanmartin, A Kanellis, N Smirnoff, IJJ Benzie, JJ Strain, D Favell, J Fletcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1175 Citations (Scopus)


Humans are unable to synthesise L-ascorbic acid (L-AA, ascorbate, vitamin C), and are thus entirely dependent upon dietary sources to meet needs. In both plant and animal metabolism, the biological functions of L-ascorbic acid are centred around the antioxidant properties of this molecule. Considerable evidence has been accruing in the last two decades of the importance of L-AA in protecting not only the plant from oxidative stress, but also mammals from various chronic diseases that have their origins in oxidative stress. Evidence suggests that the plasma levels of L-AA in large sections of the population are sub-optimal for the health protective effects of this vitamin. Until quite recently, little focus has been given to improving the L-AA content of plant foods, either in terms of the amounts present in commercial crop varieties, or in minimising losses prior to ingestion. Further, while L-AA biosynthesis in animals was elucidated in the 1960s,(l) it is only very recently that a distinct biosynthetic route for plants has been proposed,(2) The characterisation of this new pathway will undoubtedly provide the necessary focus and impetus to enable fundamental questions on plant L-AA metabolism to be resolved. This review focuses on the role of L-AA in metabolism and the latest studies regarding its biosynthesis, tissue compartmentalisation, turnover and catabolism. These inter-relationships are considered in relation to the potential to improve the L-AA content of crops. Methodology for the reliable analysis of L-AA in plant foods is briefly reviewed. The concentrations found in common food sources and the effects of processing, or storage prior to consumption are discussed, Finally the factors that determine the bioavailability of L-AA and how it may be improved are considered, as well as the most important future research needs. (C) 2000 Society of Chemical Industry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)825-860
JournalJournal of the Science of Food and Agriculture
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - May 2000


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