In the world of conventional medicine, atherosclerosis is a widely misunderstood disease, perhaps because of a fundamental misconception about the nature of the arteries themselves. In this antiquated view, the arteries have been thought of as stiff pipes that gradually become clogged with excess cholesterol floating around the bloodstream. The solution recommended most often has been to reduce the dietary consumption of fats in order to lower levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the blood.
Today, our understanding of atherosclerosis has literally redefined the disease. We now understand atherosclerosis as a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the way arteries function at the most basic level. Instead of viewing the arteries as pipes through which blood flows, we now understand that arteries are muscular organs that change and adapt to their environment and contract and expand in response to multiple factors, helping to raise and lower blood pressure and distribute blood throughout the body. Finally, we have begun to unravel the biochemical processes that underlie atherosclerosis.
Vitamin C inhibits damage caused by oxidative stress. In cigarette smokers, daily supplementation with 500 mg vitamin C significantly decreased the appearance of oxidative stress markers (Dietrich M et al 2002). Another study showed that supplementation with 500 mg vitamin C and 400 IU vitamin E daily significantly reduced the development of accelerated coronary arteriosclerosis following cardiac transplantation (Fang JC et al 2002). Vitamin C’s benefits seem especially profound in people who suffer from both diabetes and coronary artery disease. One study demonstrated that, in this group, vitamin C significantly improved vasodilation (Antoniades C et al 2004).
Vitamin E is often studied in conjunction with vitamin C for its potent antioxidant powers. It has been shown to decrease lipid peroxidation and inhibit smooth muscle cell proliferation, platelet aggregation, monocyte adhesion, oxidized LDL uptake, and cytokine production—all of which occur during atherosclerosis (Munteanu A et al 2004; Harris A et al 2002). In cultured arterial endothelial cells, vitamin E increased the production of prostacyclin, a potent vasodilator and inhibitor of platelet aggregation (Wu D et al 2004). Most vitamin E supplements come in the form of alpha-tocopherol. Life Extension recommends about 400 IU alpha-tocopherol a day, along with at least 200 mg gamma-tocopherol and 100 mg of coenzyme Q10. There is a concern that taking only the “alpha” form of vitamin E could deplete the body of gamma-tocopherol, a critically important antioxidant. Coenzyme Q10 helps regenerate oxidized vitamin E in the body.
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