Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits is widely known to lower your risk of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease while cutting your risk of dying prematurely nearly in half.1
People who eat seven or more servings of vegetables daily, for instance, enjoy a 31 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 25 percent lower risk of cancer. And each additional daily portion of fresh veggies lowered participants’ risk of death by 16 percent (compared to 4 percent for fresh fruit).
It’s not any one compound in veggies that makes them so healthy; rather, it’s the synergistic effect of all of their vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and likely, yet-to-be-discovered elements that add up to make vegetables superfoods.
However, researchers recently teased out one such benefit from the crowd, revealing that a primary reason why people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of heart disease and early death is because of their high vitamin C levels.
Higher Vitamin C Levels Linked to Lower Risk of Heart Disease and Early Death
A Danish study that followed more than 100,000 people found those with the highest intake of fruits and vegetables had a 15 percent lower risk of developing heart disease and a 20 percent lower risk of early death compared with those with the lowest intakes.2
The study also revealed that those with the highest plasma vitamin C levels had significantly reduced rates of heart disease and all-cause mortality. The researchers explained:3
“… [W]e can see that the reduced risk is related to high vitamin C concentrations in the blood from the fruit and vegetables… our data cannot exclude that a favorable effect of high intake of fruit and vegetables could in part be driven by high vitamin C concentrations.”
Past research has also revealed vitamin C’s role in heart health. For instance, a study published in the American Heart Journal revealed that each 20 micromole/liter (µmol/L) increase in plasma vitamin C was associated with a nine percent reduction in heart failure mortality.4
According to Dr. Andrew Saul, editor of the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, if everyone were to take 500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C per day — the dose required to reach a healthy level of 80 µmol/L — an estimated 216,000 lives could be spared each year
How Does Vitamin C Protect Your Heart?
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant known to block some of the damage caused by DNA-damaging free radicals. Over time, free radical damage may accelerate aging and contribute to the development of heart disease and other health conditions. It’s through this antioxidant effect that it’s thought vitamin C may play a role in protecting heart health.
For instance, people who eat a diet rich in antioxidants like vitamin C may have a lower risk of high blood pressure. Vitamin C is also known to slow down the progression of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
It may help keep your arteries flexible and prevents damage to LDL cholesterol. People with low levels of vitamin C are at increased risk of heart attack, peripheral artery disease, and stroke, all of which can stem from atherosclerosis.5
A preliminary French study is among those that showed people with vitamin C deficiency are at an increased risk for a lethal hemorrhagic stroke (when an artery that feeds your brain with blood actually ruptures). According to Daily News:6
“Our results show that vitamin C deficiency should be considered a risk factor for this severe type of stroke, as were high blood pressure, drinking alcohol and being overweight in our study,’ study researcher Dr. Stéphane Vannier, M.D., of Pontchaillou University Hospital in France, said in a statement.
‘More research is needed to explore specifically how vitamin C may help to reduce stroke risk. For example, the vitamin may regulate blood pressure.’… [P]ast studies have also linked vitamin C with reduced stroke risk.
A 2008 University of Cambridge study found people with high blood levels of vitamin C reduced their stroke risk by 42 percent, and a similar 1995 study in the British Medical Journal indicated elderly people with low levels of the vitamin had a greater risk of stroke.”
3 More Reasons Why Your Heart Needs Vitamin C
According to Dr. Stephen Sinatra, vitamin C is a superstar for your heart health, improving it in the following ways:7
1. Enhance Glutathione
Vitamin C enhances your body’s level of glutathione. Known as your body’s most powerful antioxidant, glutathione is a tripeptide found in every single cell in your body.
It is called “master antioxidant” because it is intracellular and has the unique ability of maximizing the performance of all the other antioxidants, including vitamins E, CoQ10, and alpha-lipoic acid, as well as the fresh vegetables and fruits that you eat every day.
Glutathione’s primary function is to protect your cells and mitochondria from oxidative and peroxidative damage. It is also essential for detoxification, energy utilization, and preventing the diseases we associate with aging.
Glutathione also eliminates toxins from your cells and gives protection from the damaging effects of radiation, chemicals, and environmental pollutants. Your body’s ability to produce glutathione decreases with aging, which is one reason why vitamin C may be even more important as you get older.
2. Strengthen Your Blood Vessel Walls
Vitamin C is essential for the biosynthesis of collagen, which in turn is beneficial for your arterial walls. According to Dr. Sinatra:8
“Weakened collagen can permit noxious oxidized LDL, homocysteine, Lp(a), cigarette smoke, and heavy metals to cause inflammatory reactions in the vascular lining — which starts the atherosclerotic plaque formation process.”
3. Improve Vasodilation
Your blood vessels’ ability to expand is known as vasodilation. If vasodilation is poor, it can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Vitamin C increases the availability of nitric oxide (NO), which promotes vasodilation.
What Else Is Vitamin C Good For?
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it doesn’t get stored in your body and you must consume what you need from the foods you eat each day. Vitamin C is utilized throughout your body to heal wounds, repair and maintain bones and teeth, and produce collagen, a protein found in your skin, cartilage, blood vessels, and more.
In addition to heart disease, vitamin C is considered an anti-aging vitamin and actually reversed age-related abnormalities in mice with a premature aging disorder, restoring healthy aging.9 It has also been found to play a role in preventing the common cold, cancer, osteoarthritis, age-related macular degeneration, asthma, and more. Vitamin C may also be useful for:10
In the video above, you can also hear from Dr. Ronald Hunninghake, an internationally recognized expert on vitamin C who has personally supervised more than 60,000 intravenous (IV) vitamin C administrations. Dr. Hunninghake explained:
“The way to really understand vitamin C is to go back to the writings of Irwin Stone who wrote The Healing Factor, which was a fantastic book written in the ‘70s about vitamin C. He points out that every creature, when they are sick, greatly increase their liver’s or their kidney’s production of vitamin C. But humans, primates, and guinea pigs have lost that ability.
We still have the gene that makes the L-gulonolactone oxidase enzyme that converts glucose to vitamin C but it’s non-functional. We have to get our vitamin C from the outside: from food. When we give vitamin C intravenously, what we’re doing is recreating your liver’s ability to synthesize tremendous amounts of vitamin C… So I always look upon high dose vitamin C as nature’s way of dealing with crisis in terms of your health.”
IV vitamin C is used for a variety of illnesses, notably as an adjunct to cancer treatment and for chronic infections, such as cold or flu or even chronic fatigue.
Eating Plenty of Vegetables Is the Best Way to Get Vitamin C
The ideal way to optimize your vitamin C stores is by eating a wide variety of fresh whole foods. A number of people, primarily with the naturopathic perspective, believe that in order to be truly effective, synthetic vitamin C (ascorbic acid) alone is not enough. They believe the combination of the ascorbic acid with its associated micronutrients, such as bioflavonoids and other components. Eating a colorful diet (i.e. plenty of vegetables) helps ensure you’re naturally getting the phytonutrient synergism needed. Hunninghake agrees.
“There is no question that would be a better way to go. Any time you can [get vitamin C from] food, you’re going to be better off… [F]ood is still the essential thing your body needs in order to get optimal cellular functioning.But when you’re sick, you can use trace nutrients in orthomolecular doses to achieve effects that you can’t get from just food alone. But in general, for people who are healthy and want to stay healthy, I would recommend using vitamin C that has bioflavonoids and other co-factors associated with it.”
One of the easiest ways to ensure you’re getting enough vegetables in your diet is by juicing them. For more information, please see my juicing page. You can also squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice into some water for a vitamin C rich beverage. You can also increase your vegetable and fruit intake. While many contain vitamin C, particularly rich sources include:
When taking an oral vitamin C, you also want to be mindful of your dosing frequency. Dr. Steve Hickey, who wrote the bookAscorbate, has shown that if you take vitamin C frequently throughout the day, you can achieve much higher plasma levels. So even though your kidneys will tend to rapidly excrete the vitamin C, by taking it every hour or two, you can maintain a much higher plasma level than if you just dose it once a day (unless you’re taking an extended release form of vitamin C). As mentioned, the elderly may have higher requirements for vitamin C, as aging may inhibit absorption. Smokers may also require more vitamin C due to the increased oxidative stress from cigarette smoke.
When You Get Your Vitamin C from Vegetables, the Benefits Are Endless
Vitamin C is an example of a vitamin that’s ideal to get by eating plenty of fresh produce. Vegetables have an impressive way of offering widespread benefits to your health. When you eat them, you’re getting dozens, maybe even hundreds or thousands, of super-nutrients that support optimal, body-wide health. Vegetables contain an array of antioxidants and other disease-fighting compounds that are very difficult to get anywhere else. Plant chemicals called phytochemicals can reduce inflammation and eliminate carcinogens, while others regulate the rate at which your cells reproduce, get rid of old cells, and maintain DNA. Studies have repeatedly shown that people with higher vegetable intake have:
And as far as your heart health goes, vegetables are one of the best forms of dietary fiber. An inverse association has been found between fiber intake and heart attack, and research shows that those eating a high-fiber diet have a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease.11 When you combine this with the vitamin C, it’s no wonder vegetables are such a superstar for heart health. Keeping veggies on hand is the first step to eating more of them.
Fresh, non-genetically-modified and organic is best, but even frozen will work in a pinch. Make it a point to include vegetables with every meal – a salad, a side dish, a pre-meal snack, a glass of fresh vegetable juice – or make veggies the main focus of your meals. You’ll easily work your way up to seven or more servings a day. For something different, trymaking fermented vegetables at home. The vitamin C in sauerkraut(fermented cabbage) is about six times higher than in the same helping of unfermented cabbage approximately one week after fermentation begins, so it’s an excellent way to boost your vitamin C intake.
Sources and References
- 1Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health March 31, 2014
- 2The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition May 6, 2015
- 3NutraIngredients July 20, 2015
- 4American Heart Journal 2011 Aug;162(2):246-53
- 510University of Maryland Medical Center, Vitamin C
- 6Daily News February 18, 2014
- 78DrSinatra.com Heart Health Benefits of Vitamin C
- 9FASEB J. 2010 Jan;24(1):158-72.
- 11JAMA. 1996 Feb 14;275(6):447-51.