According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 5.7 million people in the US suffer from heart failure and it takes the lives of about 300,000 Americans each year. Currently, heart failure has no cure although certain medications and lifestyle changes can help many people live longer; in severe cases some heart failure patients undergo heart transplants. But now there’s a new treatment that could dramatically help heart failure patients. And it’s not a new type of surgery or Big Pharma prescription — it’s plain old vitamin C.
These findings were just announced at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2011, underway in Orlando, Florida. “We found that adequate intake of vitamin C was associated with longer survival in patients with heart failure,” Eun Kyeung Song, Ph.D., R.N., lead author of the study and assistant professor at the Department of Nursing, College of Medicine, in the University of Ulsan in Korea, said in a media statement.
Heart failure is a common and often deadly condition that results when the heart can’t pump an adequate amount of oxygen and nutrient rich blood through the body. The symptoms that result can include fatigue, loss of appetite, fluid build-up and kidney failure. Shortness of breath also occurs when heart failure causes blood to back up behind the heart, leading to increased pressure or fluid in the lungs.
For the new study headed by Dr. Song, the researchers worked with 212 patients with an average age of 61. Approximately 45 percent of the participants had moderate to severe heart failure. When the scientists tested their vitamin C levels, they found that heart failure patients with low levels of the vitamin had the highest levels of high sensitivity C-Reactive protein (hsCRP), a marker for inflammation and a risk factor for heart disease. Those with lower vitamin C levels in the body also had more major cardiac events and higher death rates.
Low vitamin C levels linked to higher death rate
Specifically, heart failure patients in the study who had low vitamin C intake were 2.4 times more likely to have higher levels of hsCRP compared to patients with higher levels of the vitamin. Study participants with low vitamin C intake and hsCRP over 3 milligrams per liter (mg/L) were also about twice as likely to die from heart disease within one year of follow-up.
“Increased levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein means a worsening of heart failure,” Dr. Song explained. “An adequate level of vitamin C is associated with lower levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein. This results in a longer cardiac event-free survival in patients.”
It turns out heart failure patients may be at increased risk of too little vitamin C because they are regularly prescribed diuretic drugs to help the body get rid of excess fluid. In the media statement, Terry Lennie, Ph.D., R.N., a study author and associate dean of Ph.D. studies in the College of Nursing at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky, pointed out that vitamin C is water soluble and diuretics, also known as “water pills”, increase the amount of water excreted from the kidneys which also takes C out of the body.
So what is it about vitamin C that appears to be extremely advantageous to people with heart failure? Dr. Song and colleagues pointed out that inflammation seems to play an important role in heart failure and a lack of vitamin C could contribute to that problem. On the other hand, taking in adequate vitamin C appears to significantly lessen inflammation.