Vitamins C and E May Slow Accumulation of Plaque in Arteries
Supplementing with vitamins C and E may slow the progression of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) in people with high cholesterol levels, according to a new study in Circulation (2003;107:947–53). Reducing the accumulation of plaque in the arteries may lead to fewer deaths related to complications of atherosclerosis, such as heart attack or stroke.
Atherosclerosis is a progressive condition of the large arteries of the body that can lead to thickening and hardening of the arterial wall. The build-up of plaque inside the artery can cause blood flow to become restricted or completely obstructed, eventually causing chest pain (angina), heart attack, stroke, or pain in the legs upon walking (intermittent claudication). Atherosclerosis can also cause an artery to become weak, potentially leading to a life-threatening bursting of the artery (ruptured aneurysm). Risk factors for atherosclerosis include a high cholesterol level, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes, and sedentary lifestyle.
In the new study, 440 adults between the ages of 45 and 69 with high cholesterol were randomly assigned to receive 272 IU of vitamin E per day, 500 mg of slow-release vitamin C per day, a combination of vitamins E and C, or a placebo for three years. After the initial three-year period, those taking only vitamin E or only vitamin C began taking both vitamins together for an additional three years. Ultrasound was used to measure the thickness of the common carotid artery (in the neck) initially and then every six months for the duration of the study.
At the end of six years, the artery walls in those taking vitamins C and E were significantly less thick than those taking a placebo. Men appeared to benefit more from the vitamin supplementation than did women. The authors speculate this may be because the men had lower blood levels of vitamins C and E before the study began, so the men had more to gain from taking the vitamins. A greater treatment effect with vitamins C and E was also observed in those who smoked cigarettes or had carotid artery plaque prior to treatment.
Studies show that atherosclerosis affects more than 60 million Americans and is the leading cause of death in men over the age of 35 and in both men and women over the age of 45. More than 50% of all deaths in the United States are due to atherosclerosis or its complications. Other studies show a direct link between high cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis and that lowering cholesterol reduces the risk of developing hardened arteries. Animal studies and preliminary human studies suggest that garlic may help reverse atherosclerosis. Other nutrients used to lower cholesterol include policosanol, red yeast rice, niacin, and soy protein.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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