The “old school” vitamin turned heart health hero

My Facebook and Twitter pages have been buzzing with a surprising headline lately so I thought I should it share with you:

“High Levels of Vitamin C May Decrease Ischemic Heart Disease and Mortality Risks.”

That’s right. Good old vitamin C. The very same inexpensive vitamin your doctor will tell you just turns your urine bright yellow and then gets flushed down the drain.

It was the next part of the article that really got me, though…

“Although findings that a healthy diet is good for the heart aren’t really a surprise anymore, new research suggests that this may be because of the increase in vitamin C levels that come from a high intake of fruit and vegetables.”

These findings may not be a surprise to you and me. But have you ever known a cardiologist to suggest you eat a diet rich in vitamin C? Most I know are still caught up in the old school dogma of lowering cholesterol. And the only dietary advice they give is to stop eating eggs and cut down on fat. But they’ll still hand you a prescription for a statin too, just for good measure. And when that doesn’t work, they’ll be ready with a scalpel and some sort of “life-saving” heart intervention.

Which would you rather choose: A tried and true vitamin that costs pennies a day…or side-effect riddled drugs and surgery that cost thousands?

But enough ranting for today…Let’s move on to the good news this research uncovered.

Nearly 100,000 people from Denmark were evaluated in the Copenhagen General Population Study (CGPS) and Copenhagen City Heart Study. The researchers divided them into four subgroups based on how often they ate fruits or vegetables:

1) almost never

2) less than once a day

3) once a day

4) at least twice a day.

The study showed that those who ate the most fruits and vegetables had a 13% lower risk of cardiovascular heart disease, and a 20% lower risk of all-cause mortality compared with the people who rarely ate these foods.

As I said above, these results aren’t really surprising, but the researchers did uncover some startling statistics that I hope will spur my male readers into action:

Seventy-one percent of the men reported that they almost never ate fruits and vegetables, 59% ate them less than once a day, and 45% just once a day. Only 31% of the men in the study ate fruits and vegetables at least twice a day.

Embarrassing for our gender, to say the least.

Anyway, the researchers also found those who ate the most fruits and vegetables also had the highest blood levels of vitamin C. So this nutrient clearly offers some significant heart protection.

But what I really liked about this study is that it looked at nutrition the way it should be looked at—holistically.

In conventional medical research, drugs are usually studied in a singular fashion—to see if it does one particular thing. But nutrients work in combination with one another, rather than alone. Studies should be designed with that in mind. Unfortunately, they often aren’t. This was a rare example of one that was.

And instead of attributing the protective effect of the fruits and vegetables ONLY to vitamin C, the researchers went on to say that because fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and micronutrients, “it is plausible that one or a combination of them…might confer cardiovascular protection through an effect on vascular function, a reduction of blood pressure, lower plasma concentrations of LDL cholesterol, or a reduction in oxidative stress.”


That said, I do recommend 3 grams of vitamin C per day. And since humans can’t make their own internally like most mammals, chances are you may also need to take a vitamin C supplement in addition to eating several servings of vitamin-C rich produce every day. Red and green peppers, kale, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, and cantaloupe are all good sources of this essential nutrient.


“Genetically high plasma vitamin C, intake of fruit and vegetables, and risk of ischemic heart disease and all-cause mortality: a Mendelian randomization study.” Am J Clin Nutr 2015; 101: 1,135-1,143.