The role of vitamin C in heart health (Pt. 1)
Almost everybody has heard of vitamin C, but how many are aware of the key role this vitamin has in heart health? Out of a ‘blood vessel pipeline system’ that measures an astounding 60,000 miles, the arteries of the heart are the ones that suffer the most ‘wear and tear’ in the body. Taking into account that the heart beats more than 100,000 times a day, it is understandable that the coronary arteries are the most stressed in the body. It is also the reason why they are the most vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies. To quote Dr. Matthias Rath, “Your body is as old as your cardiovascular system, and optimizing your cardiovascular health adds years to your life.” (1)
In what follows we will look at how vitamin C can be crucial to the health of our heart. We will learn why Dr. Rath asserts that vitamin C deficiency is a primary cause of heart disease, and learn why supplementation with this vitamin can be crucial. We will also look at the nutritional content of the “Heart and Body Extract”.
The mighty artery
It is said that a chain is as strong as its weakest link… In order to withstand the constant pressure the pumping action of the heart puts the coronary arteries under, the arteries have to stay strong and resilient. This is accomplished by the collagen fibers each artery is composed of. These fibers are key to the strength of the arteries.
According to Dr. Rath, when looked under a powerful microscope, each of the collagen fibers comprising our arteries looks like an iron bar. Actually, each collagen fiber “is stronger than an iron wire of comparable width.” (1)
Vitamin C is like cement for the artery wall
Vitamin C is directly related to the resilience of this body tissue and, as a consequence, helps in many ways in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: heart attacks, strokes and atherosclerosis. For one, vitamin C encourages the production of collagen, elastin and other reinforcement molecules. These biological reinforcement rods constitute the body’s connective tissue, which comprises approximately 50% of all the proteins in our bodies. Increased production of collagen means improved stability for the 60,000 mile long pipeline of our arteries, veins and capillaries. For this reason, vitamin C is considered to be like cement to the artery walls. Optimal amounts of vitamin C are necessary.
In addition, vitamin C is an anti-oxidant that serves as a co-factor in many biochemical reactions in the body’s cells.
When vitamin C stores are depleted in the body, a gradual breakdown of the body’s connective tissue, including blood vessel walls, starts. This causes “leaky blood vessel walls” which Dr. Rath refers to as “arterial scurvy”, and this is in his opinion “the main cause for heart attacks and strokes.” (1)
The average diet contains enough vitamin C to prevent scurvy but not enough to guarantee stable reinforced artery walls. As a consequence, hundreds of tiny cracks and lesions develop along the artery walls.
From tiny cracks to atherosclerotic plaques
The main cause of atherosclerosis is the biological weakness of the artery walls caused by chronic vitamin deficiency; they develop as a compensatory stabilizing force to strengthen an already weakened blood vessel wall. Once the artery wall is weakened by vitamin C deficiency, it begins to form little cracks. The body then mobilizes its repair mechanisms: cholesterol and other millions of fat particles (lipoproteins) enter the damaged area in order to start repair. These are deposited in the artery wall by means of biological “adhesives”, which eventually lead to atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerotic deposits in coronary arteries reduce the blood flow and impair oxygen and nutrient supply to millions of heart muscle cells. The coronary arteries of patients with angina pectoris typically look completely blocked. Heart attacks can occur when a blood clot forms on top of the atherosclerotic deposit interrupting the blood flow through the artery. Millions of heart muscle cells die, impairing the heart muscle and causing death. If the deposits are in the arteries of brain, it can lead to strokes.
Atherosclerotic deposits usually develop over many years, this is why Dr. Rath recommends to start prevention as early as possible. Atherosclerosis is not a disease caused by age though; studies of soldiers in the Korean and Vietnam wars aged 25 or younger showed atherosclerotic deposits.
The role of nutrition
Together with vitamin C, natural “teflon” agents neutralize these adhesive particles. These are the natural amino acids lysine and proline. These two amino acids become even more effective in combination with other vitamins. This is why a complete vitamin based program is necessary for the cells of the artery walls to initiate the healing process. According to Dr. Matthias Rath, these micronutrients provide essential bioenergy for millions of cells composing the cardiovascular system.” (1)
Cellular Medicine, a new understanding of health and disease
Cellular medicine looks at cardiovascular health and disease as it regards the millions of cells that comprise the organ we call the heart. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can keep the heart cells starving and therefore unable to do their job. Cellular medicine takes into consideration the following:
Cells of the blood vessel walls: Known as ‘endothelial cells’, they form a protective barrier between the blood and the blood vessel wall. They also contribute to a number of metabolic functions such as optimum blood viscosity. The smooth muscle cells produce collagen and other reinforcement molecules, providing optimum stability and tone to the blood vessel walls.
Deposits and spasms of the blood vessel walls are the causes of high blood pressure. Dietary supplementation of magnesium and vitamin C relaxes the blood vessel walls and normalizes blood pressure. The amino acid arginine can also be beneficial for these cells.
Blood cells: The millions of cells circulating in our blood are responsible for transporting oxygen, wound healing and many other functions.
Cells of the heart muscle: The heart muscle pumps so circulation can be possible. A subtype of heart muscle cells is responsible for conducting electricity for each heartbeat.
The millions of muscle cells need fuel for optimum performance: carnitine, coenzyme Q10, B vitamins, etc will optimize the pumping performance of the heart and contribute to a regular heartbeat.
Nutrition for the cell
Since the cardiovascular system is the most active organ system of our bodies, it has the highest consumption of essential nutrients. This means that all the millions of cells we just mentioned need nutrition in order to do their job. Long-term deficiency of vitamins and other essential nutrients in millions of vascular wall cells impairs the function of the blood vessels walls. The result is high blood pressure and development of atherosclerotic deposits which lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Vitamin deficiencies in artery wall cells can lead to:
Increased artery wall tension
Narrowing of artery diameter
Thickening of artery walls and high blood pressure
Instability of artery wall
Lesion and cracks
Atherosclerotic deposits, heart attacks and strokes
Vitamin deficiency in millions of heart cells can contribute to irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and heart failure (shortness of breath, edema and fatigue)
Nutrition is the main source of fuel for these hard working heart cells because our body cannot produce it. Dr. Rath cellular nutrition recommendations comprise more than 30 vitamins, minerals, amino acids and trace elements at optimal levels. These recommendations are for everybody of any age but those with advanced health problems such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure etc require higher doses.
Why animals don’t get heart attacks
It is a known fact that in the animal kingdom none of the domestic species, with some rare exceptions, develop atherosclerosis. The explanation according to Dr. Rath is that animals produce their own vitamin C. Their body reservoir is 10-100 higher than that of humans so they can produce between 1,000 and 20,000 mg of vitamin C a day.
We human beings cannot manufacture a single molecule of vitamin C. As opposed to animals, the human body lacks the enzyme that is needed to convert sugar molecules (glucose) into vitamin C. The inevitable consequence is that unless we get this nutrient from the diet, we will be deficient. Our ancestors had a rich plant diet that provided the daily minimum of vitamins and minerals. However, we have moved far away from that and our diet has become highly processed. Our food is also usually overcooked, which destroys most vitamins, minerals and enzymes. All this has led to our present disease state.
(1) Rath, Matthias. Why Animals Don’t Get Heart Attacks– but People Do!: The Discovery That Will Eradicate Heart Disease: The Natural Prevention of Heart Attacks, Strokes, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, High Cholesterol and Many Other Cardiovascular Conditions. Santa Clara, CA: Dr. Rath Education Services USA, 2003. Print.