Supplementing with vitamin C each day could be as effective as walking for improving heart health and circulation in obese people. [Photo: Bigstock]

Vitamin C as good as exercise for the heart?

7 September, 2015

Natural Health News — Supplementing with vitamin C each day could be as effective as walking for improving heart health in obese people, a new study has found.

Overweight and obese adults are often advised to exercise in order to improve their health, but more than half never do.

Now research suggests that taking vitamin C supplements daily can bring similar heart benefits as regular exercise in these adults.

Speaking at the 14th International Conference on Endothelin: Physiology, Pathophysiology and Therapeutics, researchers from the University of Colorado noted that the blood vessels of overweight and obese adults have elevated levels of a protein called endothelin (ET)-1, which causes them to constrict.

What you need to know

» High levels of a specific protein ET-1 can cause blood vessels to constrict – making it harder for blood to circulate, especially when demands are high. This raises the risk of heart disease.

» US researchers have found supplementing with 500mg of timed-release vitamin C appears to lessen the activity of ET-1 as much as regular exercise.

» There is some previous evidence that adequate daily vitamin C may help keeps hearts healthy.

Stressing the heart

This narrowing of the blood vessels can mean they are less responsive to the changing demands on blood flow – for instance from when we are resting to when we are running or stressed – therefore increasing a person’s risk of vascular disease.

Past studies have found exercise helps to reduce ET-1 activity, but for many adults incorporating exercise into a daily routine can be challenging. Related to this, previous research has shown that oxidative stress may be involved in the process by which ET-1 constricts blood vessels so the researchers wanted to see if vitamin C supplements, which have been reported to improve vessel function, and lower blood pressure can also lower ET-1 activity.

They found that daily supplementation of just 500mg of timed-release vitamin C daily reduced ET-1-related vessel constriction as much as walking for exercise did. Vitamin C supplementation represents an effective lifestyle strategy for reducing ET-1-mediated vessel constriction in overweight and obese adults, the researchers wrote.

Heart benefits

Studies into vitamin C’s heart benefits can be mixed but there are some very positive findings.

In one 2012 study daily supplements of vitamin C (500 mg) decreased heart rate during exercise and also reduce feelings of fatigue.

Earlier this year a Danish study linked reduced risk of heart disease to high blood concentrations of vitamin C as a result of eating fruits and vegetables.

Those with the highest intake of fruit and vegetables had a 15% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a 20% lower risk of early death compared with those who very rarely eat fruit and vegetables.

Daily  needs

In 2012 US researchers argued that the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, of vitamin C is less than half what it should be because of faulty science that evaluates this natural, but critical nutrient in the same way as pharmaceutical drugs. Some benefits of micronutrients in lowering chronic disease risk also show up only after many years or even decades of optimal consumption of vitamin C – a factor often not captured in shorter-term clinical studies. The scientist raising the RDA for vitamin C to 200 milligrams per day for adults.

Of course vitamin C is not a replacement for exercise, but should be seen as something that works in a complementary way with it. The body body does not produce or store vitamin C, so we need to eat foods rich in this essential nutrient and/or to supplement each day. Papayas, guavas, acerola cherries, avocados, sweet potato, peas, peppers, pineapple, broccoli and of course citrus fruits are all high in vitamin C. Some ‘superfoods’ like camu camu and aronia berries are also very high in vitamin C and can be added to other foods such as smoothies, cereals and yogurts to boost your daily intake.