Vitamin C May Reduce Angina, Heart Attack Risks

June 19, 1998

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Moderate daily supplements of vitamin C taken by people with coronary artery disease may be effective in improving the function of blood vessels, preventing the chest pains of unstable angina pectoris and reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke, new studies suggest.

The recently published research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was conducted by collaborating scientists from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and Dr. John F. Keaney, Jr., and Dr. Joseph A. Vita at the Boston University School of Medicine.

In three recent reports, these researchers have outlined how patients with a healthy level of vitamin C in their bloodstream - which was provided in one study by a daily 500 milligram supplement - had blood vessels with significantly improved "vasodilation," or the ability to relax and avoid dangerous constriction. Similar findings were also made with one prescription drug.

"These studies are providing a new perspective on heart disease," said Balz Frei, professor and director of the Linus Pauling Institute at OSU. "Atherosclerosis, or clogged arteries, are still a serious health concern, but they don't necessarily mean a person will suffer a heart attack or stroke. It appears there are also other key factors in the health of blood vessels, and they may be influenced by vitamin C."

In tracing the biological underpinnings of heart disease, Frei said, scientists are honing in on the ability of a naturally-produced compound in the body, nitric oxide, that helps relax blood vessels, inhibits the aggregation of platelets and the formation of blood clots, and decreases the risk of plaque rupture - all of which are relevant to actually having a heart attack or stroke.

Studies suggest that nitric oxide can be "inactivated" by superoxide radicals, which are the reactive oxygen compounds often present with high cholesterol levels. When nitric oxide availability is improved, it reduces the presence of unstable angina pectoris or the risk of coronary events linked to a higher level of heart attacks, experts say. This, in fact, is how nitroglycerin tablets work - they are often taken by patients to provide nitric oxide and relieve the symptoms of angina attacks.

And at least two other mechanisms which can help do that, Frei said, are healthy levels of vitamin C or use of a prescription drug which can increase levels of glutathione, also an antioxidant.

"Use of antioxidants such as vitamin C may not primarily act through inhibition or reduction of atherosclerotic lesions," Frei said. "We don't suggest that atherosclerosis is not a serious health concern, because it is. But it is not the only major factor relevant to actually having a heart attack."

Researchers became intrigued by that concept, Frei said, when it was found that some cholesterol-lowering drugs or the use of vitamin E supplements appeared beneficial to coronary patients even when the state of their blood vessels had not yet changed much.

"It's clear there's something more at work here than just scarred or clogged arteries," Frei said. "We now believe that preserving the biologic availability of nitric oxide is very important, and that antioxidant vitamins, especially vitamin C, can play a very important role in this."

Findings from some of the most recent work were published in the April, 1998, Journal of the American College of Cardiology. In the study of 149 patients, those with low levels of vitamin C were strongly correlated to a higher incidence of painful, unstable angina pectoris - even though there was no apparent difference in the level of artherosclerosis between patients with high or low vitamin C levels.

Another study published in March, 1998, in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that a prescription drug which increases levels of glutathione can also improve blood vessel function, even though the underlying artherosclerosis is largely unchanged. And it's known that vitamin C can also help protect levels of glutathione.

And a third study, awaiting publication and presented recently at a professional conference in California, indicated that a 500 milligram daily supplement of vitamin C was enough to provide most of the benefits it had to offer in improving blood vessel function.

"With the issue of vasomotor dysfunction, we're basically finding that moderate supplements of vitamin C can soon restore the dilation characteristics of atherosclerotic blood vessels to those of healthy blood vessels," Frei said. "That's not the only risk factor for heart disease and stroke, but it appears to be an important one."

Based on the findings of this and other recent studies making similar findings, Frei said, any patient with unstable angina pectoris or coronary heart disease might be prudent to take up to a 500 milligram supplement of vitamin C daily. Many patients studied have inadequate levels of the vitamin.

A diet rich in fruits and fresh vegetables would be even better for this purpose, he said, because it would provide generous levels of vitamin C and many other health benefits as well. But there is no known health risk for people who wish to use 500 milligram daily vitamin C supplements, or even more, he said, and chances are there may be substantial benefits for the heart.

Oregon State University

Related Heart Disease Articles from Brightsurf:

Cellular pathway of genetic heart disease similar to neurodegenerative disease
Research on a genetic heart disease has uncovered a new and unexpected mechanism for heart failure.

Mechanism linking gum disease to heart disease, other inflammatory conditions discovered
The link between periodontal (gum) disease and other inflammatory conditions such as heart disease and diabetes has long been established, but the mechanism behind that association has, until now, remained a mystery.

New 'atlas' of human heart cells first step toward precision treatments for heart disease
Scientists have for the first time documented all of the different cell types and genes expressed in the healthy human heart, in research published in the journal Nature.

With a heavy heart: How men and women develop heart disease differently
A new study by researchers from McGill University has uncovered that minerals causing aortic heart valve blockage in men and women are different, a discovery that could change how heart disease is diagnosed and treated.

Heart-healthy diets are naturally low in dietary cholesterol and can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
Eating a heart-healthy dietary pattern rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, vegetable oils and nuts, which is also limits salt, red and processed meats, refined-carbohydrates and added sugars, is relatively low in dietary cholesterol and supports healthy levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol.

Pacemakers can improve heart function in patients with chemotherapy-induced heart disease
Research has shown that treating chemotherapy-induced cardiomyopathy with commercially available cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) delivered through a surgically implanted defibrillator or pacemaker can significantly improve patient outcomes.

Arsenic in drinking water may change heart structure raising risk of heart disease
Drinking water that is contaminated with arsenic may lead to thickening of the heart's main pumping chamber in young adults, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

New health calculator can help predict heart disease risk, estimate heart age
A new online health calculator can help people determine their risk of heart disease, as well as their heart age, accounting for sociodemographic factors such as ethnicity, sense of belonging and education, as well as health status and lifestyle behaviors.

Wide variation in rate of death between VA hospitals for patients with heart disease, heart failure
Death rates for veterans with ischemic heart disease and chronic heart failure varied widely across the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system from 2010 to 2014, which could suggest differences in the quality of cardiovascular health care provided by VA medical centers.

Heart failure: The Alzheimer's disease of the heart?
Similar to how protein clumps build up in the brain in people with some neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, protein clumps appear to accumulate in the diseased hearts of mice and people with heart failure, according to a team led by Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Read More: Heart Disease News and Heart Disease Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to