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Protecting your Heart and Blood Vessels with Antioxidants

February is heart health month so of course we start to see more posts on heart-healthy recipes and natural ingredients. One thing you might notice is that many of these natural compounds fall into the category of antioxidants. This is a broad term that includes any substance that that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are produced in our bodies as results of normal cell energy production or from external damaging influences (i.e. UV radiation, chemicals etc.). The cardiovascular system is especially sensitive to the effects of free radicals. One reason is that our heart is a muscle that is working all the time to push blood throughout our bodies. Since this finally tuned organ needs high amounts of cellular energy, its packed with many mitochondria, our energy power plants inside each cell. Each mitochondrion needs a steady supply of antioxidants to keep it from being bogged down by free radicals.  So, it’s no surprise that all the heart-friendly nutrients, botanicals and vitamins are also potent mitochondria-friendly antioxidants. The second reason the heart needs ample amounts of antioxidants is not because of the heart itself, but rather the vessels that travel throughout the body supplying life-giving oxygen and nutrients. The lining of the blood vessels is called the endothelium and it’s of paramount important to regulating blood flow and allowing nutrients to pass into the cells. Now let’s explore some nutrients with the most evidence supporting cardiovascular benefit, dispel some common myths surrounding them and ultimately giving you the facts to choose the right nutrient.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is most well known for its use to combat colds but a recent large-scale review study confirmed that 500mg of vitamin C reduced oxidative and inflammatory damage in the blood vessel wall (also called the endothelium). The researchers suggested that one of the reasons vitamin C has this beneficial effect was because it preserves nitric oxide function, a key factor in keeping blood vessels relaxed.

However, the benefits of vitamin C are not limited to nitric oxide.  Over 25 years ago Dr. Linus Pauling and Dr. Mathias Rath, the fathers of orthomolecular medicine, identified vitamin C as an essential factor in blood vessel healing. Unfortunately, most people don’t have adequate levels of vitamin C and instead their body uses a fat complex called Lipoprotein A (similar to LDL cholesterol) to patch up damage to the endothelial wall. The negative tradeoff is that Lipoprotein A also inhibits an enzyme that breaks down blood clots. This creates a situation where the blood is stickier which can lead to health issues. Fortunately, the amino acids L-lysine and L-proline counteract the effects of Lipoprotein A by inactivating it and preventing the binding to blood clots. Dr.’s Pauling and Rath also discovered that L-lysine and L-proline are synergistic with the effect of vitamin C in repairing the blood vessel wall. The elastin and collagen that give strength and flexibility to the arterial wall are rich in both of these amino acids. Vitamin C replaces the need for lipoprotein A since it is a key factor in collagen formation and repair. Dr Pauling and Dr Rath started using the combination of vitamin C with L-lysine and L-proline as a key protective factor in patients. AOR was the first company to appreciate the groundbreaking work of Pauling and Rath and created a product based on their original formulation. The product Ortho C+ contains the aforementioned ingredients plus essential electrolytes magnesium, potassium and calcium. This formula is an excellent preventative strategy that supports optimal heart health. Along with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, Ortho C+ gives your blood vessels some tender loving care they deserve.

Vitamin E

One of the most frequently studied natural compounds is vitamin E. It is a family of molecules that have a potent antioxidant effect in fat rich tissues such as skin, nerves and vital organs. A number of studies have found that vitamin E supplementation reduces damage to the outer membrane of the cell, supports heart function, improves hot flashes in menopause and supports healthy cholesterol levels.

You may have heard of some conflicting research results when it comes to vitamin E. This is most likely due to a number of flaws that exist in the use of vitamin E in research trials. Vitamin E is a family of eight molecules (four tocopherols and four tocotrienols) that function synergistically in human physiology. Most studies have only used low doses of α-tocopherol, which has been thought to be the active form in human physiology since it’s the most common form found in tissues. Most studies state they use vitamin E but in reality, they are only supplementing with one form (α-tocopherol) and not the full group of molecules that makes up vitamin E. One reason that α-tocopherol may have detrimental effect just by itself is that it prevents the absorption and distribution of other forms of tocopherols and tocotrienols. Emerging evidence suggests that the tocotrienol family has even more benefits than the tocopherols in stroke recovery, cancer prevention and vascular health.  

In addition, vitamin E works with other antioxidants such as vitamin C and Coenzyme Q10 as part of an antioxidant network. Supplementation with a single antioxidant can lead to itself becoming oxidized if adequate levels of supporting antioxidants are not present. The synergistic nature of the vitamin E family highlights the need to supplement antioxidants together in order to support their proper biological function in the body. The full spectrum of tocopherols and tocotrienol offer unique and pronounced health benefits if we can get adopt the reality that they must be supplemented together. Whenever looking for a vitamin E supplement make sure that it contains all eight forms for vitamin E to harness all the beneficially effects. 

CoQ10

Probably the most studied and well-known nutrient that supports cardiovascular and mitochondrial function is Coenzyme Q10. It plays a direct role in cellular energy production and is a powerful antioxidant within the mitochondrial membrane. Unfortunately, the body’s production of CoQ10 peaks around age 20 and then declines constantly with age. Statin (anti-cholesterol) medications can further deplete CoQ10 levels causing muscle pains leading to a need for extra supplementation. There is a substantial amount of research showing that CoQ10 has numerous health benefits including improving heart function, nerve repair, slowing brain decline, preventing migraines and promoting muscle recovery. The strongest evidence supporting CoQ10 supplementation shows it can improve heart muscle function and promote healthy blood pressure. This beneficial effect is primarily due to CoQ10’s ability to promote energy production in the mitochondria. CoQ10 also has a powerful antioxidant activity, and even “recharges” other antioxidants by keeping them in their active states.

Other Mitochondrial Antioxidants

Other natural compounds that have been shown to have antioxidant effects in the mitochondria include lipoic acid, resveratrol, found in wine and grapes, curcumin from turmeric and EGCG, found abundantly in green tea.

Take-Aways

  1. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that protects blood vessel walls and reduces the stickiness of blood.
  2. Use a complete source of vitamin E with all eight forms
  3. Antioxidants work better together since they recycle each other.

References:

  • Ashor AW, Lara J, Mathers JC, Siervo M. Effect of vitamin C on endothelial function in health and disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Atherosclerosis. 2014 Jul;235(1):9-20.
  • Lippi G, Guidi G. Lipoprotein(a): an emerging cardiovascular risk factor. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2003 Feb; 40(1): 1-42.
  • Rath M. and Pauling L. Immunological evidence for the accumulation of lipoprotein(a) in the atherosclerotic lesion of the hypoascorbemic guinea pig. PNAS. 87(23): 9388-90.
  • Rath M, Pauling L. Hypothesis: lipoprotein(a) is a surrogate for ascorbate. PNAS. 1990 Aug; 87(16): 6204-7.
  • Gee PT . Unleashing the untold and misunderstood observations on vitamin E. Genes Nutr. 2011 Feb;6(1):5-16.
  • Sen CK, Khanna S, Roy S (2007) Tocotrienols in health and disease: the other half of the natural vitamin E family. Mol Aspects of Med 28:693–728
  • Bonakdar RA, Guarneri E. Coenzyme Q10. Am Fam Physician. 2005 Sep 15;72(6):1065-70.
  • Sharma et al.  Coenzyme Q10 and Heart Failure: A State-of-the-Art Review. Circ Heart Fail. 2016 Apr;9(4):e002639.
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