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Study: Vitamin C Pills Linked To Artery Clogging


Could this be true?

Yesterday on AP carried a story with the above title which was picked up by many newspapers and many  Internet sites, including the Johns Hopkins InteliHealth site.  So far, the article itself is the only information I have seen.   Almost nothing is explained regarding the participants, or their state of health or diet.  They do, quite tellingly, indicate that they were all "outwardly healthy".  This is such a tip-off of the mind-set of the allopathic community.  If you aren't sneezing directly on the doctor, you are outwardly healthy!  If you are suffering from a host of chronic conditions that are in their early stages, you are outwardly healthy.  If you only get the average 2-3 colds per year, if your allergies are "managable", if your joint pain only shows up before or after exercise, or doesn't keep you from doing this things you'd like, you are healthy.

So let's look at what the article states and analyze what may or may not be accurate.

What did they find?

    "The study found no clear-cut sign that getting lots of vitamin C from food or a daily multivitamin does any harm. But those taking vitamin C pills had accelerated thickening of the walls of the big arteries in their necks. In fact, the more they took, the faster the buildup."

First they say getting lots of C appears to do no harm.  So far, so good.  The next sentence states  "accelerated thickening of the walls of the big arteries in their necks."   Later they state "People taking 500 milligrams of vitamin C daily for at least a year had a 2 1/2 times greater rate of thickening than did those who avoided supplements."

We know very little about the study.   We know nothing about the diets of the participants.   All we know is that the participants were "outwardly healthy".  And what does "thickening" mean?  If atherosclerosis is a healing process that our bodies initiate to overcome the deterioration of the arterial wall  due to chronic vitamin C deficiency, as I believe, does "thickening" really refer to the arterial wall itself, and if so then this could indicate a restoration of arterial integrity.  This would be a good thing.   If, on the other hand, the study does indeed refer to the deposition of atherosclerotic plaque, then we need to look further.   One interesting side note; on the In The News page is a discussion of a study from December, 1999 that indicated that 500 mg daily supplementation of vitamin C may help reduce hypertension.  This would seem contradictory to vitamin C significantly contributing to atherosclerosis.

Other studies

The AP story reports the researchers as saying that "more experiments are needed to know for sure".  Indeed,  and what other research is available already?  Drs. Pauling and Rath performed considerable  research before presenting their "Unified Theory" that atherosclerosis is actually caused by a chronic  vitamin C deficiency!  An outstanding Web site, Linus Pauling Therapy for Heart Disease discusses this at  great length.   Also, please visit my heart disease section.   Pauling and Rath did a reevaluation of the Framingham Heart study verifying the link between a chronic vitamin C deficient, compromised arterial  wall and heart disease.  In the 1970's vitamin C consumption in the U.S. rose by 300 % while the mortality  from heart disease decreased 30 %.  The United States was the only country with a significant drop in heart disease fatalities during this period.  This is completely contrary to the suggestion that vitamin C in doses as low as 500 mg per day actually causes atherosclerosis.  In 1992 research by Dr. Enstrom and his colleagues at UCLA showed that, in over a 11,000 Americans, that increased intake of vitamin C reduces the death rate from heart disease by nearly half.

Common  sense

While the researchers state these findings as inconclusive the implication is that an individual that takes as little as 500 mg of vitamin per day has a significantly increased chance of developing atherosclerosis and, one can only assume, dying of a heart attack . (While atherosclerosis is certainly a contributing factor to heart attacks, most all cardiac events are the result of a blood clot.  But this is a subject for another discussion.)  Vitamin C is the largest selling nutritional supplement.   1,000 mg tablets are consumed by many thousands of people every day.   If the link between vitamin C and atherosclerosis was as these researchers implied, I don't think it is much of a stretch to say that they have identified the cause of heart disease–high dose vitamin C!  Any research should clearly show a very significant correlation between vitamin C supplementation and heart disease since s  low a dose as 500 mg appears to have such a profound negative effect on arterial pathology.  No doctors intimately involved with high dose vitamin C has seen anything of the kind!  Quite the contrary.  Please refer to the Pauling Therapy page for other research.

Other Responses

Natrol, a leading supplement manufacturer and the leading supplier of Ester-Cú, has commented on this test.

Elliott Balbert of Natrol is quoted at the Natural Products Industry Center Industry Newswire:

    "This unpublished paper flies directly in the face of a significant body of clinical, experimental, and epidemiological data demonstrating a benefit of vitamin C in reducing mortality associated with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases.

    "High dietary intake of vitamin C has been found to be associated with low rates from cerebrovascular and cardiovascular diseases. More importantly, a study of 11,348 U.S. adults found that men and women with the highest vitamin C intake and regular vitamin C supplementation had a 42% and 25% decrease in cardiovascular mortality, respectively. It has also been demonstrated that vitamin C supplementation can reduce the risk of cardiovascular mortality by positively influencing cholesterol levels, platelets and even blood pressure. In addition, a 15 year prospective study involving over 12,000 subjects conducted by Cheraskin and colleagues, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, found that the group most symptom free of any disease or condition was the group supplementing at nearly the identical level of vitamin C that Dwyer's group allegedly places subjects at increased risk of arteriosclerosis."

The Vitamin C Foundation (new 3/13/00)

From an e-mail from the Vitamin C Foundation:

    We have been in contact with Professor James Dwyer of the USC Medical School, one of the principal researchers.  As expected, this research seems to be good news for elderly vitamin C takers whose carotid arteries have "thinned" with age.  There is no evidence of occlusion (or clogging), contrary to the media reports. 

    Here is what we have confirmed with Dr. Dwyer:

    1.  There is no paper as we suspected.  (The USC team's paper is in "peer review" and not available.)
    2.  The USC team used a new  "B-mode" imaging technique which is still undergoing clinical trial for accuracy at the NIH.
    3.  This B-mode imaging technique has three indicators. The USC team only studied one;  carotid arterial "thickening" or "IMT". (Dr. Dwyer tells us there will be no reference in their paper to the other two occlusion indicators; plaque index and velocity ratio.)
    4.  According to correspondence, Dr. Dwyer and the USC team is unaware that arteries might get thicker with increased vitamin C intake, and that this is entirely predicted by theory. (Increased Vitamin C stimulates collagen production, but this is not well taught or well known in medical school.) (this was my initial interpretation! see above. Ed.)
    5.  Last year, the same USC research team (Dwyers, et. al) wrote a paper with the opposite findings.  Last year they found  that stress (some would say a vitamin C deficiency) leads to early atherosclerosis in men   (March 1999).

    Bottom line: There is no evidence of occlusion, only thickening.

Dr. Robert Cathcart (new 3/13/00)

    "My experience with 25,000 patients since 1969 indicates that this charge is ridiculous.  I know that  follow-up is not perfect in private practice but I have had no patient who had a good heart when I first saw them and who took massive doses of C who ever developed heart problems.  I have to add that I advise all my patients to avoid sugar, chemicals, and highly process foods, and put them on a number of other nutrients.

    "If it turns out that there is thickening of the carotid, I think it is reversing the thinning that occurs with aging.  It is interesting that the effect is so dramatic in the reversing of the effect on smokers.  I have to congratulate you at the Vitamin C Foundation on unveiling the other two findings that could have been measured which were not reported.

    "Probably the finding that C helped would not be publishable."


If we get more details regarding this study, of course, a more detailed examination is in order.  As of today, I don't think it is time to throw out your vitamin C supplements.

Also of Interest:

Cforyourself Message Board discussion

The article at Johns Hopkins Intelihealth

Linus Pauling Therapy for Heart Disease and their page on this story

Additional discussion of the AP article:


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