Vitamin C: an aldose reductase inhibitor that normalizes erythrocyte sorbitol in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus

J. J. Cunningham, P. L. Mearkle and R. G. Brown

Department of Nutrition, University of Massachusetts, Amherst 01003-1420.

OBJECTIVE: Diabetic hyperglycemia promotes sorbitol production from glucose via aldose reductase. Since the intracellular accumulation of sorbitol, or its sequelae, are postulated to contribute to the progression of chronic diabetic complications, aldose reductase inhibitors (ARI) offer therapeutic promise. Others have shown that vitamin C at pharmacologic doses decreases erythrocyte (RBC) sorbitol. We examined whether smaller, physiologic doses of vitamin C were also effective in individuals with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) and whether vitamin C was an ARI in vitro. METHODS: Vitamin C supplements (100 or 600 mg) were taken daily for 58 days by young adults with IDDM and nondiabetic adults in an otherwise free-living design. Diabetic control was monitored by fasting plasma glucose, glycosylated hemoglobin, and glycosuria and was moderate to poor throughout the study. RBC sorbitol was measured at baseline and again at 30 and 58 days. Three-day dietary records and 24-hour urine collections were performed for each sampling day. RESULTS: RBC sorbitol levels were significantly elevated in IDDMs, on average doubled, despite their more than adequate dietary intakes of vitamin C and normal plasma concentrations. Vitamin C supplementation at either dose normalized the RBC sorbitol in IDDMs within 30 days. This correction of sorbitol accumulation was independent of changes in diabetic control. Furthermore, our in vitro studies show that ascorbic acid inhibited aldose reductase activity. CONCLUSIONS: Vitamin C supplementation is effective in reducing sorbitol accumulation in the erythrocytes of diabetics. Given its tissue distribution and low toxicity, we suggest a superiority for vitamin C over pharmaceutic ARIs.


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