Probably the most acknowledged antioxidant, vitamin C is touted to have many health benefits. Known to bolster the immune system, help fight colds, lower cancer risk and prevent scurvy, vitamin C also exhibits the ability to protect the cardiovascular system.
As the leading cause of death in the United States, heart disease is a major problem. A person’s heart health is typically assessed by determining how vulnerable one is to cardiovascular disease. As such, there are a variety of measurable factors that can determine the effectiveness of any given approach for preventing heart problems. By conducting studies that evaluate the effect of vitamin C on several of these factors, researchers have consistently found that this vitamin is a necessity for maintaining heart health.
- Reduces Hardening of the Arteries – While atherosclerosis is a known predicator of heart disease, scientists have confirmed that thickening of the intima media carotid artery specifically enhances the risk of coronary artery disease – the most common kind of heart disease in the U.S. Published in the January 2009 edition of the journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, researchers from Ulleval University Hospital in Norway reported that increasing vitamin C, fruit and berry intake is associated with less thickening of the carotid artery.
According to lead author Ingrid Ellingsen, “Increased intake of vitamin C and fruit and berries seemed to contribute to the lesser progression of the carotid intima media thickness (IMT) in elderly men who were given dietary advice. Focusing on the intake of vitamin C-rich plant foods may be an important therapeutic intervention in regard to their risk of cardiovascular disease.”
- Reduces Blood Pressure – Because of the added pressure it puts on the heart and entire cardiovascular system, hypertension (high blood pressure) greatly increases the risk for heart attack and stroke. As published in the December 2008 Nutrition Journal, University of California at Berkeley researchers found that the amount of vitamin C in a person’s bloodstream is inversely related to one’s blood pressure. More specifically, the study’s participants in the highest one-fourth of the vitamin C blood level distribution had 4.66 mmHg lower systolic blood pressure and 6.04 mmHg lower diastolic blood pressure than those in the lowest one-fourth of the distribution.
- Associated with Less Inflammation – A protein in the blood that signals systemic inflammation, C-reactive protein (CRP) is likely to be elevated when there is a buildup of arterial fatty deposits. Some physicians test CRP levels in the blood to assess cardiovascular disease risk. As described in a November 2008 University of California, Berkeley press release, there is evidence that vitamin C supplements can lower concentrations of C-reactive protein. The same study found no benefit from daily doses of vitamin E, another antioxidant.
According to Gladys Block, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of epidemiology and public health nutrition and lead author of this study, “It has recently been suggested by some researchers that people with elevated CRP should be put on statins as a preventive measure. For people who have elevated CRP but not elevated LDL cholesterol, our data suggest that vitamin C should be investigated as an alternative to statins, or as something to be used to delay the time when statin use becomes necessary.”
Each of the three factors of cardiovascular disease risk – hardening of the arteries as determined by carotid artery thickness, blood pressure and C-reactive protein levels -were found to decrease with vitamin C supplementation. A great deal more research is required to definitively place Vitamin C on a prescription pad to treat heart disease. However, enough evidence exists to advocate taking this vitamin to protect and maintain heart health.