Arterial Disease Depletes Body of Vitamin C
The bottom line, says Langlois, is that PAD appears to kick the body's inflammatory process into high gear, which then releases a free radical bombardment, that can "deplete the supply of vitamin C."
Langlois, who is a specialist in clinical pathology at the Hospital of Ghent in Belgium, discovered the association between PAD and vitamin C when he tested 85 people with PAD, 106 people who had high blood pressure but no circulation problems in their legs, and 113 healthy volunteers.
People in each group consumed an average of 120 mg of vitamin C daily, he says. But the blood levels of vitamin C "did not correlate with dietary intake in the PAD group," he says. In the other two groups, the blood levels "correlated with dietary intake." Moreover, the other groups had no evidence of elevated CRP, but the PAD group did.
So turning the concept around, does this research mean that increasing the intake of vitamin C could actually help people suffering from PAD, or even atherosclerosis in general? Not necessarily, says Ronald M. Krauss, MD, who chairs the American Heart Association's council on nutrition, physical activity, and metabolism. "We are still lacking clear evidence that vitamin C supplementation can actually treat atherosclerosis," he tells WebMD. But, he says the study by Langlois does add some needed information to the ongoing vitamin C debate.
For example, Krauss says that earlier studies demonstrated that smoking depletes the levels of vitamin C in the blood. In the new study, Langlois "demonstrated that the low level of vitamin C in people with PAD appears to be independent of smoking. That is an important observation because it suggests that something about the condition [PAD] itself is associated with loss of vitamin C."
Krauss says that such observations help researchers understand the mechanism of disease, but don't add much to current treatment approaches.
Although Americans are very intrigued by the possibility that they could take a vitamin to cure or prevent heart disease, Krauss says that is probably just wishful thinking. Though taking "a modest dose of vitamin C, say 500 mg a day, is generally safe, I don't think that something so powerful as atherosclerosis is going to be overcome by one or another simple vitamin supplement."