The link between heart disease and vitamin C deficiency

Everything you’ve been told about heart disease may be wrong… because it could be caused by a deficiency!

Only one man has ever garnered two Nobel prizes, based solely on his own achievements – and that was the late, great Dr. Linus Pauling. Thanks to the awards he won and the books he wrote, Dr. Pauling is primarily known as a chemist; but he was also a humanitarian, a peace activist, and, by many accounts, the founder of molecular biology.

He also pioneered the use of vitamins to prevent and treat illnesses, including the now widely-accepted connection between vitamin C and the common cold.

But Dr. Pauling suspected that the sniffles and sneezes weren’t all that vitamin C could tackle. So, he began exploring and investigating other uses for it, including combatting cancer, slowing down the ageing process, and fighting cardiovascular disease.

In fact, the last words he spoke before he died in 1994 were: “I think we can get almost complete control of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes.” He was talking about something he’d been working on for a while: using high doses of vitamin C and an amino acid called L-Lysine to understand how plaques build up in the arteries and to help prevent it from happening in the first place.
The protocol became known as ‘The Unified Theory of Human Cardiovascular Disease,’ first published by Dr. Pauling and his associate Dr. Matthias Rath in 1989. Since then, the theory has
been highly controversial, as have its authors.

But as with many topics in natural medicine, being controversial does not mean being wrong. And, some 20-odd years after his death, it’s still worth paying attention to Dr. Pauling’s ideas on cardiovascular health – ideas that continue to be supported by new research.

While we wait for mainstream medicine to catch up to Dr. Pauling and start accepting his discoveries from over 20 years ago, there’s no sense in waiting to learn what he knew before he died… and to make his deathbed wish come true.

Why we have a harder time getting enough vitamin C

To understand Dr. Pauling’s ‘unified theory’ and to really get on board with it, you’ve got to understand a couple of things about vitamin C.

As you know, I frequently focus on the diets of our ancestors with my patients and in Nutrition & Healing UK and my Health eTips. That’s because we can learn a lot from what was eaten so many centuries before us, going all the way back to the days of the caveman.

The first thing you need to know about vitamin C, has to do with what our ancestors ate.

When our ancestors were living in tropical and subtropical climates where plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other vitamin C-rich foods were available, getting enough vitamin C was no problem.
And that was a good thing, because almost all animals are capable of producing their own supply of vitamin C in their bodies out of simple glucose molecules, EXCEPT humans (as well as other primates and guinea pigs).

A genetic abnormality prevents the proper formation of vitamin C in our bodies, so we humans require higher amounts of vitamin C in our diets. So, as our ancestors moved on to other, less hospitable climates, they couldn’t as easily get enough vitamin C from their diets – and that’s when they began to develop vitamin C deficiency syndromes.

Not getting enough vitamin C can damage your arteries

When vitamin C is insufficient in the body, the disease known as scurvy occurs. We think of scurvy as a disease of the past centuries… one of sailors who lived on vitamin C-deficient foods and developed weakening of the bones, bleeding gums, and vascular collapse… but it turns out that today, something similar may still be happening.

The reason this happened – and the reason that a vitamin C deficiency is serious business – is because vitamin C is necessary in order to form two of the proteins that make up the structural matrix of our body tissues.

Now, this can get a little complicated, but stay with me here.

The first protein, collagen, is more prevalent than any other protein in the body. It links all of our connective tissues by forming cross-linking strands called fibrils. The cross-linking involves the amino acid L-Lysine, which knits together the collagen fibrils. But in order for this to happen, the enzyme lysine hydroxylase must be activated – and this activation requires vitamin C.

Without adequate vitamin C (and adequate lysine), this cross-linking of collagen fibrils doesn’t happen effectively. As a result, the body’s connective tissue becomes weakened.

One place that is critically dependent on proper collagen matrix formation is the arterial blood vessel system. The inner lining of our arteries, called the endothelial layer, is comprised of cells held tightly together to prevent any leakage, supported by a strong ring of connective tissue.

Dr. Pauling’s theorised that while modern-day humans no longer develop symptoms of full-blown scurvy all at once when they’re deprived of adequate vitamin C, they do develop subtle forms of it. The collagen-rich connective tissue in the walls of your arteries weakens slowly and steadily over the course of your lifetime.

Eventually, cracks develop in the lining that’s supposed to be keeping the contents of your arteries IN and everything else OUT.

Something’s got to plug the holes

Over time, our bodies have developed mechanisms for trying to repair injuries like this. For instance, when the endothelial layer of your arteries gets damaged, your liver produces fat-rich substances that are predominantly a type of cholesterol called lipoprotein(a) or Lp(a).

These are fats that ‘stick’ to the damaged ends of lysine residues in the area of the damaged artery, repairing the leakage with a fatty patch. Eventually, these fatty patches in the artery accumulate platelets, calcium, and fibrous tissue, forming the atherosclerotic plaques that lead to cardiovascular disease. To put it simply, a long-term deficiency of vitamin C triggers the development of deposits in the arteries of the heart, as associated with atherosclerosis.

In fact, according to their research, these low levels of C sometimes referred to as ascorbate deficiency) are a COMMON DENOMINATOR of cardiovascular disease in humans.

If Dr. Pauling was right, then cholesterol is just a good Samaritan, stopping at the site of the arterial damage and trying to help by clogging up the leaks in the stressed endothelial wall.

To paraphrase their ground-breaking research, evolution chose a health problem that would slowly worsen over decades (atherosclerosis) over a problem that would be acutely life-threatening (scurvy versus damage to artery walls).

And if we were to adopt these principles on a widespread basis to eradicate vitamin C deficiencies, cardiovascular disease would be ELIMINATED as a cause for human mortality.

You may be avoiding something much worse

But most conventional primary care doctors and cardiologists don’t focus on Lipoprotein(a) because they’re fixated instead on cholesterol numbers and they’re too quick to put patients on cholesterol-lowering statin drugs to bring those numbers down.

A growing number of researchers, however, have started agreeing with this ‘Universal Theory’ and furthering the science with new research.

Back in 2013, a small Polish study reconfirmed the effectiveness of vitamin C supplementation not just on cardiovascular disease, but actually heart FAILURE. What’s more, the researchers found that vitamin C (as well as other nutrients) was particularly effective when combined with exercise like weight training in particular.

In a patient case report published in 2015, high dose vitamin C combined with a number of amino acids (including L-Lysine) outperformed traditional medications in a congestive heart failure patient, whose condition had been worsening since taking them. The nutritional supplement protocol not only stopped the disease progression but IMPROVED her physical function and energy levels.

And just last November, the World Journal of Cardiovascular Disease published a ‘reappraisal’ of atherosclerosis and the ‘Cholesterol Theory’. That is, rather than prescribing statins willy-nilly to reduce cholesterol numbers that don’t really mean anything, they argued that we need to be developing “effective therapeutic strategies aiming at natural reversal of atherosclerosis through the reinforcement of the vascular wall structure as its primary goal”.

Three nutrients repair arteries and prevent plaque build-up

According to Drs. Pauling and Rath, the key to reversing existing heart disease has to do with the lysine receptors on Lipoprotein(a) molecules that help facilitate the development of atherosclerotic plaques.

They hypothesised that if a patient with atherosclerosis is given enough L-Lysine, it will attach to the receptors on the Lp(a) molecules and PREVENT THEM from attaching to the endothelial cells.
Therefore, distracted by an influx of L-Lysine which they wouldn’t be able to resist, they would not clog up the arteries.

Think of it this way: a hungry seagull might try to snatch a bit of bread from you if it had no other food, but it wouldn’t bother with your sandwich if it could instead be gorging on a nice, juicy fish.
In my practice, I’ve found quite a few patients with genetically elevated Lp(a), which puts them at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes than does a minor elevation of total cholesterol. For those patients, the Pauling-Rath Protocol, particularly the L-Lysine part of it, is a must.

In addition to vitamin C and L-Lysine, there’s a third component to the current protocol and that’s another amino acid, called L-Proline. According to Dr. Rath’s research, it seems that L-Proline, like L-Lysine, is a blocker of Lp(a) receptors, preventing the Lp(a) from attaching to the lysyl residue of the injured collagen tissue.

Although there’s very little clinical data on this so far, we do know that L-Proline is a safe amino acid which the body only makes in limited quantities.

The original protocol by Dr. Pauling consisted of 3000mg of vitamin C and 2800mg of L-Lysine, taken together twice daily. Later, Dr. Rath amended this to add 500mg of L-Proline, also twice daily.

In my office, we’ve added several other nutrients to enhance the antioxidant effect of the formula, including 200mg of CoQ10 and 300g of N-acetylcysteine (NAC), again twice daily.
The final ingredient that we’ve added is a form of vitamin E that’s particularly protective of cell membranes, including cardiac muscle tissue, called tocotrienols. Our recommended dose is 200mg, twice daily.

Finally, if the patient’s fasting cholesterol and/or LDL cholesterol are especially high, depending upon the circumstances, we might add some combination of plant sterols, a tree extract that’s popular in Ayurvedic medicine known as gugulipids, red yeast rice, or niacin.

We then have the patient take them for at least four months before retesting their Lp(a) levels or doing any imaging studies.

While all of these natural therapies are available on their own, I wouldn’t go shopping at your local health food store just yet. Working with a holistic doctor will ensure that none of these will dangerously interact with any other supplements or medications that you’re currently taking.

Wishing you the best of health,

Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing

Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.

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