Vitamin C is a well-studied and well-known antioxidant vitamin. When I think of vitamin C, I think of immune health. This is because time and time again, research headlines have indicated that vitamin C helps boost the immune system and helps to prevent or fight off the common cold or flu. However, the research on vitamin C has unleashed a new, exciting health role for this vitamin which relates to heart health.
Researchers collectively reviewed the study results of 44 clinical studies of 1129 people. Vitamin C supplements significantly improved endothelial function in individuals with diabetes, atherosclerosis and heart failure.
What is endothelial function?
How does it relate to heart health? Endothelial function describes the normal role of the endothelium: a thin layer of cells (termed ‘endothelial cells’) that lines the inner wall of blood vessels or lymphatic vessels. With respect to heart health, the endothelium works to dilate (expand) or constrict (shrink) blood vessels, thereby controlling blood pressure. Improper functioning of the endothelium is a noteworthy sign of vascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis, where blood vessels become rigid and thick, and heart health.
How does Vitamin C work for heart health?
The researchers suggested some mechanisms that lead to their observations on endothelial function benefits. Firstly, the antioxidant role of vitamin C may protect damage to endothelial cells. Secondly, it is possible that vitamin C could also make nitric oxide more available to cells, where nitric oxide (already found in the body) functions as a vasodilator (to expand blood vessels).
What about the dose? The researchers specifically noted that doses of greater than 500 mg of vitamin C per day boosted endothelial function in individuals who are susceptible to issues relating to heart health. With future research, it will be interesting to see how the heart health and vitamin C story continues to unfold.
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