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Heart Disease Health Center

Arterial Disease Depletes Body of Vitamin C

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April 9, 2001 -- A glass of orange juice is a popular breakfast drink, and for most of us it also supplies needed vitamin C. But for people who have a disease that affects circulation to the legs and feet, called peripheral arterial disease or PAD, a glass of orange juice or even a vitamin C supplement may not be enough.

Michel Langlois, MD, PhD, a researcher from Belgium who has been studying PAD, tells WebMD that even if people with the disease consume a healthy amount of vitamin C, blood tests still indicate low levels of the vitamin.

So is the answer another glass of OJ or few vitamin C capsules? No so fast, says Langlois. He says that more studies are needed before any recommendations about vitamin C and PAD can be issued. Based on the research he has already completed, which is published in the April 10 issue of Circulation, Journal of the American Heart Association, Langlois says "we cannot conclude that increasing vitamin C intake would increase [blood] levels of vitamin C."

Additional studies may be able to nail down what is depleting vitamin C in people with PAD. Langlois says that although vitamin C levels bottom out among patients with PAD, these same people have high levels of what's called C-reactive protein or CRP, which is an indicator for inflammation.

He says this combination in people with PAD -- low levels of vitamin C and high levels of CRP -- may be explained by understanding the underlying disease.

People with PAD have painful and disabling cramps in their legs when they walk, he says. The condition is actually a type of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, the same disease that causes heart attacks and stroke, he says. In fact, people with PAD are more likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than are people whose arterial disease doesn't affect the legs.

In atherosclerosis, arteries and other blood vessels are lined with fat deposits and buildup of cellular materials, including inflammatory cells, which release unstable molecules called free radicals. The free radicals do additional damage to the delicate vessels, says Langlois. Antioxidants such as vitamin C seek out and destroy free radicals, but in the process the antioxidants are themselves destroyed.

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