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Scurvy, cholesterol, coronary attack

Is A Lack of Vitamin C Causing Heart Attacks?

 By Dr. Gifford Jones

Are you headed for a heart attack because you’re suffering from “marginal scurvy” due to lack of vitamin C? Possibly the theory linking cholesterol to coronary attack might be wrong?

And why did the ship’s cat survive long sea voyages in the 16 century when sailors died from scurvy?

Now, we know that sailors used to perish from this disease due to lack of vitamin C. A shortage of fresh fruit on board resulted in degeneration of blood vessels, haemorrhage and death. Today, in North America scurvy is considered past history. But a report in Mature Medicine Canada claims many North Americans remain deficient in vitamin C.

Dr. Carol S. Johnston is Associate Professor of Food and Nutrition Laboratories at Arizona State University. She reports that nearly 7 percent of Canadians and 13 percent of Americans tested were found to be deficient in vitamin C. And that 15 percent of college students were suffering from marginal scurvy.

But how could this happen and why don’t we hear about “marginal scurvy”? It’s primarily because doctors no longer think about a diagnosis of scurvy.

Dr. Johnston also reports that many of the common fruits and vegetables, apples, bananas, green salads, carrots, corn and fried potatoes are not rich sources of vitamin C. Moreover, 45 percent of Americans do not consume fruit daily.

Dr Johnston cites several cases of definite scurvy. A boy who complained of hip pain and a limp. Based on clinical findings and X-ray studies a diagnosis of acute leukemia was considered. But a bone marrow biopsy showed nothing abnormal.

Further questioning revealed that the boy’s diet consisted only of cookies, yogurt, whole milk, biscuits and water for the past year. The final diagnosis, scurvy.

A 12 year old girl developed swollen gums and pain in the lower limbs. Doctors diagnosed an abscessed tooth and prescribed antibiotics. Later, a blood test diagnosed scurvy.

Another 4 year old boy suddenly found it difficult to stand or walk. His doctors questioned the diagnosis of poliomyelitis since he had not been immunized against this disease. Then an X-ray of the thigh showed changes consistent with scurvy.

Still another 36 year old woman with scurvy developed multiple hemorrhagic lesions from the ankles to the thigh.’ The symptoms of marginal scurvy are less pronounced. Patients may complain of fatigue, exercise intolerance, weakness, weight loss, increased irritability and vague muscle pains. They are also more susceptible to infection.

One of the best ways to detect marginal scurvy is by a good dietary history. But definitive diagnosis depends on finding low levels of vitamin C in the blood.

Marginal scurvy slows recovery from illness. In one study, elderly patients hospitalized for acute bronchitis or pneumonia, were vitamin C deficient on admission. All patients received the standard treatment, but half were also given 200 mg of vitamin C. Recovery was much more rapid in those receiving vitamin C.

Marginal scurvy is also four times higher in smokers than non™smokers. It’s estimated that smokers need 200 mg of vitamin C daily to maintain normal blood levels of this vitamin.

Dr Johnston’s report doesn’t surprise me. Several years ago I interviewed Dr. Linus Pauling, the two-time Nobel Prize winning chemist. He stressed for years that North Americans suffered from marginal scurvy. Humans and gorillas, unlike other animals, cannot manufacture vitamin C. This is why the ship’s cat survived long sea voyages when sailors died.

Pauling believes that marginal scurvy can result in coronary attack. Vitamin C is required for the manufacture of collagen. Just as cement holds bricks together, collagen is the glue that binds cells together. If the glue is faulty coronary cells are injured setting the stage for atherosclerosis and heart attack.

Pauling died at 93 years of age and I’m not the only one who believes he may have been on the right track. Dr. William E. Stehbens, Professor of Pathology at Wellington University in New Zealand, says the same thing in a slightly different way.

Stehbens studies show that coronary arteries are subject to great stress when the heart is pumping blood to the rest of the body. And that this constant pounding results in atherosclerosis. Increased cholesterol may not be the sole culprit.

Dr. Johnston does not relate marginal scurvy to coronary disease. It’s not surprising as few doctors are aware of Paulings’ theory. Rather, most in the medical community cling to the belief that abnormal blood cholesterol levels are linked to heart attack. But history has often proven established thinking wrong.

Of course Pauling may also be wrong. But I believe it’s prudent to take vitamin C in case he’s right. Furthermore, studies suggest that increased intake of vitamin C decreases the risk of cataracts and possibly some cancers. Also food for thought is the fact that gorillas in captivity receive 5,000 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C daily. Yet the recommended dose for humans is 60 mg.

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Dr. Gifford Jones  Bio
Dr. Gifford Jones Most recent columns

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He’s been a ship’s surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: http://www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones

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