Metal ions (Cr and Co) are released from metal orthopaedic implants in situ. We investigated tissue dissemination of Cr III, Cr VI and Co II ions in the body, and determined if administration of ascorbic acid (AA) affected their in vivo distribution using rats as a model system. Organs of rats treated with both Cr (VI) and Co (II) have higher metal ion levels when compared with control levels in the organs of rats without metal treatment. The reduced form of chromium, Cr III, is reported to be relatively impermeant to cell membranes in vitro, and in line with this, Cr III did not distribute into the organs of the rats after administration in vivo. Potent in vitro reduction of Cr (VI) to Cr III by AA was observed in this study. Prior intraperitoneal injection of AA lowered tissue uptake of both Cr VI and Co II, and increased faecal excretion, but not to a significant extent. AA may only be effective in increasing elimination of Cr VI at high concentrations when plasma reduction is saturated, and may be of limited therapeutic use in patients with orthopaedic implants. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.