Are vitamin C and E good for your heart? How much should you consume daily?

Dr Haresh G Mehta, Consultant, Interventional Cardiologist, SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim, explains why antioxidants are needed to fight cell damage and strengthen the cardiovascular system

Antioxidants are natural substances that are found in foods. Several studies across the globe have shown that diets high in antioxidant-rich vitamins have been linked to reducing the risk of developing heart disease. They are believed to prevent heart diseases by fighting against “free radicals” that travel throughout the body, damage cells and oxidise cholesterol.

What are antioxidants and what do they do for the heart?

Inflammation is the basic cause of most diseases in the body. From cancer to Coronavirus-induced reactions, heart disease to ageing, inflammation is the trigger for many diseases and disorders. This is caused by free radicals, also known as oxidants, which harm the cells in the body. Antioxidants are those substances that bind these harmful free radicals and protect the cells. Some findings have shown that if the antioxidants’ capacity is insufficient, then they will reduce the oxygen, thus causing stress to the cardiovascular system. Also, oxidant stress has been linked to atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease (CAD). There are numerous positive in-vitro studies that highlight the benefits and impact of use of antioxidants for cardiovascular protection, but these studies fail to have statistically significant outcomes when it comes to real world data. In-vitro studies have shown various advantages of antioxidants, which protect the heart from oxidative stress, reduce inflammation and atherothrombotic disease.

Who should take extra vitamin E and vitamin C?

Both vitamin E and C are known to be chemical antioxidants and they play an important role in building immunity and reducing inflammation. These vitamins help in preventing reactions from harmful oxidation and lipid peroxidation. People facing health problems like recurrent upper respiratory infections, liver diseases, muscle cramps and those who want healthier hair, skin and nails should regularly take tablets or include vitamin E and C in their diet. Also, these vitamins are known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. According to the National Library of Medicine, vitamin C has been shown to reduce monocyte adhesion to the endothelium. Adhesion of circulating monocytes to endothelial cells is one key in the formation of atheromas, and is considered one of the early signs of the development of atherosclerosis. Additionally, vitamin C has been shown to improve nitric oxide production of the endothelium, which, in turn, increases vasodilation, reducing blood pressure. Furthermore, vitamin C may prevent apoptosis of vascular smooth muscle cells, which help keep plaques more stable if atherosclerosis has developed.

Various studies have evaluated the antioxidant effects of vitamin E in the prevention or treatment of heart disease. In-vitro data suggest that vitamin E protects against oxidation of low-density lipoprotein and decreases the deposition of atherogenic oxidized low-density lipoprotein in arterial walls. A randomised trial in 1999 had shown that low-dosage vitamin E supplementation (50 IU/d) decreases the risk of angina in patients without previously diagnosed CAD. Another study, using high-dosage vitamin E supplementation (400 or 800 IU/d), demonstrated a decrease in the combined end point of non-fatal myocardial infarction and cardiovascular death in patients with established CAD.

How much of vitamins E and C should I take? Are there side effects?

A maximum dose of 1000 mg for vitamin E and 2000 mg for vitamin C daily is tolerable for the body. But the daily requirement for the human body is about 4 mg for vitamin E and 75-90 mg for vitamin C. Anything in excess is harmful for the body and consumption of higher dosage can lead to greater risk to the health. Studies have shown that excess consumption of both these vitamins can lead to side effects like nausea, vomiting, dyspepsia, rashes, bleeding, and renal stones. Hence, one should always consult a medical professional before taking the tablets of these vitamins, to understand the dosages and if there is a need to take them especially if a person has any underlying diseases.

Does it help to take a multivitamin every day?

Consumption of vitamins and antioxidants directly from fresh fruits and vegetables is far healthier as they contain flavonoids which are potent natural substances. Also, one’s body needs the necessary nutrients and vitamins to function properly. A well-balanced diet with wholesome foods seldom requires supplementation. If a person is unable to keep their diet in check, then oral supplements with multivitamins do have some benefits. Additionally, consumption of multivitamins has some advantages. They help in maintaining muscle strength, increase energy levels, boost the immune system, help improve mood and brain function among others.

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