Vitamin C Supplements Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
Women who supplement with vitamin C significantly reduce their risk of heart disease, according to a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (2003;42:246–53).
Vitamin C is an antioxidant nutrient found in vegetables and fruits. Its ability to prevent and repair damage to cells and to stimulate the immune system are well established. Severe vitamin C deficiency, known as scurvy, is marked by fatigue, muscle pain, easy bruising and bleeding, loss of teeth, and bleeding gums. Symptoms of heart disease, including angina, abnormal electrocardiogram, and sudden death, have been reported to occur in some individuals with severe vitamin C deficiency, even before signs of scurvy appear.
Severe deficiency is rare in developed countries but supplementation is thought to have many benefits, even for people with "sufficient" intake. Some studies have found that supplemental vitamin C is beneficial in chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, and cancer. Several studies have found that the risk of heart disease is higher in people whose dietary intake of vitamin C is very low or deficient. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for 260,000 deaths each year with costs between $21 billion and $40 billion annually.
The current study draws on data from more than 85,000 healthy women who were enrolled in a large study known as the Nurses’ Health Study. Questionnaires were used to determine health status, dietary intake and supplemental use of vitamin C, and other lifestyle factors believed to contribute to the risk of heart disease. These questionnaires were given to participants at the beginning of the study and at 2-year intervals for 16 years. Participants were divided into five groups, or quintiles, according to their vitamin C intake. The average intake of vitamin C ranged from about 70 mg per day in the lowest quintile to about 700 mg per day in the highest quintile. Women in the highest quintile had a 27% lower risk of developing heart disease than did women in the lowest quintile. Further analysis revealed a 28% reduction in risk of heart disease in women who used vitamin C supplements compared with women who did not, and this benefit was seen primarily in women who had taken vitamin C for two or more years. This reduction in risk did not vary significantly with the amount of vitamin C ingested, but was slightly stronger in women taking 400 mg per day or more.
This study provides evidence that vitamin C supplementation may be protective against heart disease in healthy women. This benefit may be achieved with a relatively small and inexpensive amount of vitamin C, which could be recommended with high confidence of safety. Further studies are needed to examine the potential benefits of vitamin C in protecting people with chronic conditions that place them at high risk of heart disease and the value of vitamin C as a treatment for heart disease is still to be established.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, Vermont, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
Copyright © 2003 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of the Healthnotes® content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Healthnotes, Inc. Healthnotes Newswire is for educational or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or provide treatment for any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health, you should always consult with a healthcare professional. Healthnotes, Inc. shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Healthnotes and the Healthnotes logo are registered trademarks of Healthnotes, Inc.