The Impact of Vitamin C on Endothelial Function

Safe, effective nutrient proves beneficial to patients with heart disease and diabetes

By Daniel Chong, ND

About the Author

Daniel Chong, ND, has been a licensed naturopathic physician, practicing in Portland, Oregon, since 2000 and focusing on risk assessment, prevention, and drug-free treatment strategies for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as general healthy aging, and acute and chronic musculoskeletal injuries. Chong has also completed certificate training in cardio-metabolic medicine from the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine and is an active member of the Society for Heart Attack Prevention and Eradication (SHAPE). In addition to his clinical work, Chong serves as a clinical consultant for Boston Heart Diagnostics Lab.

Reference

Ashor AW, Lara J, Mathers JC, Siervo M. Effect of vitamin C on endothelial function in health and disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Atherosclerosis. 2014;235;1:(9-20).

Study Design

Systemic review and meta-analysis of MedLine, Embase, Cochrane Library, and Scopus databases (from inception to May 2013) for studies meeting the following criteria: 1) randomized controlled trial (RCT) with adult participants, 2) vitamin C administered alone, and 3) studies that quantified endothelial function (EF) using commonly applied methods including ultrasound, plethysmography, and pulse wave analysis

Participants

Data were pooled from 44 RCTs of various sizes. Studies were designed to assess vitamin C’s effect on EF in healthy volunteers and in atherosclerotic, diabetic, and/or heart failure patients.

Study Parameters Assessed

All studies assessed EF using commonly applied methods including ultrasound, plethysmography, and pulse wave analysis.

Aim of Review

To determine whether there is any effect of vitamin C supplementation on EF and if so, whether this effect is associated with health status, study duration, dosage, and/or means of vitamin C administration

Key Findings

Pooling the data showed a clear and significant benefit of vitamin C supplementation in amounts over 500 mg per day (standard mean difference [SMD]:0.50, 95% confidence interval [CI]:0.34-0.66, P<.001). It appeared those participants with heart failure derived the greatest benefit (SMD:0.48, 95% CI: 0.08-0.88, P<.02). Those with diabetes as well as atherosclerosis also had significant improvements in EF (SMD:0.52, 95% CI:0.21-0.82, P<.001; SMD:0.84, 95% CI:0.41, 1.26, P<.001, respectively). Vitamin C did not have any impact on EF in healthy volunteers. The improvements in EF remained unaffected and unchanged when study design, duration, baseline plasma vitamin C concentration, and means of administration were taken into consideration. In the meta-regression analysis, the improvements in EF appeared to be dependent only on dosage (β:0.00011; 95% CI:0.00001-0.00021, P=.03).

Practice Implications

The endothelium is in direct contact with our blood supply. As such, it is constantly under the influence of vasodilating and vasoconstricting molecules in the blood and is itself a contributor to this pool of opposing molecules. In the past, the endothelium was thought to be a passive barrier between blood and blood vessels, but we now know that it is an active participant. EF is integral to maintaining the delicate balance that allows for healthy blood vessels, as well as the health of the tissues they perfuse.
The current study simply suggests that vitamin C should always be included in protocols for our patients with cardiovascular conditions.
EF is of primary significance in the pathophysiology of numerous forms of cardiovascular disease.1 EF  can be affected negatively by a wide variety of well-known risk factors, including smoking, hypercholesterolemia, hyperhomocysteinemia, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus.2,3 Additional factors detrimental to EF not commonly considered in conventional medicine but frequently addressed in integrative practice settings include heavy metal toxicity, organic toxicants, chronic infections, inflammatory foods, intestinal dysbiosis, and chronic stress, all of which appear to negatively affect EF.4-9 This makes the endothelium a highly vulnerable yet critically important anatomical structure, one with an apparently endless supply of potentially damaging factors—not a favorable situation by any stretch of the imagination. 
 
Under such circumstances, the availability of a therapeutic substance that will improve EF and lead to better outcomes, regardless of the situation or insult, would be highly desirable. Vitamin C appears more than qualified. 
 
It is important to note that when the therapeutic approach utilized is open-minded, seeks to address causal factors vs suppress symptoms, and uses the least harmful treatments first, there will likely be many therapies available for use. The current study simply suggests that vitamin C should always be included in protocols for our patients with cardiovascular conditions. This is especially true given vitamin C’s essential vitamin status, its many other positive benefits, its ubiquity, and its low cost.  
 
Finally, while the study analyzed here is important because it clearly displays the positive effect vitamin C can have on EF, an additional motivation for focusing on this study was to help alert any readers not already savvy to the details of EF and its importance to the pathophysiology of cardiovascular disease in particular and health in general.

References

  1. Flammer AJ, Anderson T, Celermajer DS, et al. The assessment of endothelial function from research into clinical practice. Circulation. 2012;126(6):753-767.
  2. Endemann DH, Schiffrin EL. Endothelial dysfunction. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2004;15(8):1983-1992.
  3. Brown AA, Hu FB. Dietary modulation of endothelial function: implications for cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001;73(4):673-686.
  4. Wiggers GA, Peçanha FM, Briones AM, et al. Low mercury concentrations cause oxidative stress and endothelial dysfunction in conductance and resistance arteries. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2008;295(3):H1033-H1043.
  5. Krishnan RM, Adar SD, Szpiro AA, et al. Vascular responses to long and short-term exposure to fine particulate matter: MESA Air (Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and Air Pollution. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2012;60(21):2158-2166.
  6. Oshima T, Ozono R, Yano Y, et al. Association of Helicobacter pylori infection with systemic inflammation and endothelial dysfunction in healthy male subjects. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2005;45(8):1219-1222.
  7. Vogel RA, Corretti MC, Plotnick GD. Effect of a single high-fat meal on endothelial function in healthy subjects. Am J Cardiol. 1997;79(3):350-354.
  8. Rashid SK, Khodija NI, Auger C, et al. Probiotics (VSL#3) prevent endothelial dysfunction in rats with portal hypertension: role of the angiotensin system. PLoS One. 2014;9(5):e97458.
  9. Ghiadoni L, Donald AE, Cropley M, et al. Mental stress induces transient endothelial dysfunction in humans. Circulation. 2000;102(20):2473-2478.

 

 

 

 

 

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