Heart Health Month, Scurvy and Vitamin C

England once ruled the world. Really! Sailing the greatest naval force ever assembled at the time, our friends the Brits sent their armada far and wide, girdling the globe and extending their empire. On the open sea for months at a time, thousands of miles from land, those traveling tars existed on a steady diet of salt pork and biscuits, foods that kept for months in barrels and boxes — sort of like Slim Jims and Pop Tarts only healthier. But scurvy soon boarded ship. Scurvy has been described throughout history. Even the ancient Egyptians recorded the symptoms. Amazingly, however, its specific cause remained a mystery for centuries, though fresh foods were found to remedy it. Around 1800, Dr. James Lind discovered that scurvy was the result of vitamin C deficiency. Of course, he didn’t know it was vitamin C that was missing; the vitamin had not yet been isolated. However, he did realize that sailors who drank limejuice or ate limes did not develop the disease. As a matter of fact, any fruit or vegetable rich in the vitamin could cure the condition. Royal decree thence demanded that all ships in the British Navy must carry limejuice. Centuries later we still call our friends from the U.K. “limeys.” During February, the month when Big Pharma and Big Medicine are pushing their products to prevent heart disease, it’s important to remember that diet and lifestyle, not drugs and doctors, have the greatest impact on your heart health. Crack attack. Vitamin C, known also as ascorbate, is an essential nutrient. Absent, things deteriorate rapidly. Scurvy is a sure sign of vitamin C deficiency and a very unpleasant way to die. Without vitamin C, the very ability of the body to hold itself together is lost. Ascorbate is necessary to maintain the connective element in the body known as collagen. Collagen is the sort of “glue” that holds things together, and gives our body elasticity. When collagen synthesis suffers due to ascorbate deficiency, the body gets brittle. One part greatly affected is the cardiovascular system, including the blood vessels. With scurvy, blood vessels stiffen and develop cracks in the vessel wall. At first they may be minor, subclinical. Soon the vessels begin to leak and eventually the victim bleeds to death as his body falls apart. An early symptom is bleeding from the eyes. As one might well imagine, before death occurs some pretty gruesome symptoms develop. Heart disease, man’s modern plague, is characterized by arteries blocked by scaly, calcified plaque; like those hard calcium deposits seen inside plumbing or around faucets. Of course, if a surface is smooth, it’s easier to scrape the scaly buildup off the faucet or pipe. Now imagine the inside of an artery with tiny cracks in it. What better place would there be for plaque to attack? Those tiny cracks in artery walls could easily come from subclinical symptoms of scurvy. Scurvy is considered rare in developed countries like the United States. What that really means though, is that scurvy is rarely detected. Once again, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. We know for certain now that inflammation plays a role in heart disease, perhaps the most important role. Where does this inflammation come from? How hard is it to imagine that a tiny crack in an artery wall due to a very slight case of scurvy is at the bottom of it? Wild animals don’t have heart attacks. Humans are one of only four known mammals on the planet that do not produce ascorbate in the body. The others are gorillas, guinea pigs and fruit bats. All three of those are voracious vegetable eaters, scarfing large amounts of food rich in vitamin C because instinctively they know they need it to remain healthy. Like them, to get enough vitamin C, we have to ingest it from fruits and vegetables in our diet. With the standard American diet (SAD) sorely lacking in both those in any real amount, it’s likely that most of us are vitamin C deficient. Few of us show the dramatic symptoms of scurvy, but many of us likely have the subclinical version. Everyone knows vitamin C is crucial to health. But not everyone agrees on how much is necessary. The United States government’s daily recommended intake or DRI is 75 to 90 milligrams. Animals producing ascorbate naturally do so in much higher amounts. For example, a 150-pound goat produces 13 grams daily. Adjusting for weight and size a human should be ingesting far more than 90 milligrams. The link between vitamin C and heart health is not news. Two-time Nobel Prize winner Dr. Linus Pauling championed vitamin C in the 1960s. He continued to lecture and write on ascorbate and heart health until his death at age 93 in 1994. He believed that ascorbate deficiency was the essential cause of modern heart disease. His research has been relatively ignored by the conventional medical community, even with those two Nobels on his mantel. Pauling and his fellow researchers recommended six to 18 grams of ascorbate daily, several times what the government suggests. Ask yourself. Who do you think is right? At a time when many pharmaceutical drugs, including the cholesterol-lowering statins, are suspected of actually causing heart disease, our best heart-healthy medicine may be a simple vitamin. Even though there is no better way to get vitamins than from a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, supplemental vitamin C seems to do the job. I know one physician who took 20 grams a day just to see if there were any side effects. He reported only that too much vitamin C could cause loose bowels temporarily. Some proponents suggest taking as much ascorbate as one can tolerate up to that diarrhea threshold then backing off a gram. More vitamin C information is at PaulingTherapy.com. Be well.

posted at 06:23 pm
on Friday, February 11th, 2011

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