Heart disease is the biggest killer in the Western world, and more of us are dying of it every year. And yet, doctors think they’ve got it licked. That’s because they believe they know not only what causes it, but also how to treat it. All we have to do, they say, is cut fat from our diet, or take statin drugs. If we get heart disease, drugs or surgery will take care of it.
But there’s growing evidence there could be a vastly simpler solution - vitamin C.
Since the 1950s, the vitamin C-heart disease connection has been quietly bubbling away beneath the surface, but it could now be about to break through in an explosion of research. Indeed, this inexpensive vitamin appears to be central to the whole question of why we get heart disease - and then perhaps how to cure it.
The term ‘heart disease’ is a misnomer, as the problem is not so much the pumping organ itself, but the arteries that feed it. If these become narrowed, blood flow to the heart is restricted, making it malfunction. At best, it will cause pain (angina), at worst, a heart attack. The conventional medical view used to be that atherosclerosis (narrowing arteries) was an inevitable result of ageing, but that shoulder-shrugging attitude has now been replaced with finger-wagging. Today, coronary artery disease is considered to be almost wholly the fault of the sufferer’s lifestyle - smoking, lack of exercise and, above all, a high fat diet.
The logic behind the ‘fat causes atherosclerosis’ theory is simple. Arteries become narrowed by deposits of cholesterol on their inner walls; fat contains cholesterol, ergo, fat causes atherosclerosis. The idea is so entrenched in the medical mind that the proposition is no longer a theory, but established fact.
But the theory is manifestly wrong.
Flawed fat findings
Ancel Keys is credited with first postulating the ‘fat causes heart disease’ thesis in the 1950s. In what is now referred to as the ‘six countries study’, he examined the fat intake of six countries - the populations of which led to a bias in his results - and allegedly demonstrated a clear correlation between mortality from coronary heart disease and fat consumption (J Mt Sinai Hosp NY, 1953; 20: 118-39).
In the later ‘Seven Countries’ study, Keys put the blame solely on saturated fats but, by then, his earlier conclusions had been firmly taken on board by government and embraced by industry, which could offer low-fat processed foods to prevent heart disease.
Industry has also ignored the evidence that saturated fats don’t clog arteries (J Clin Epidemiol, 1998; 51: 443-60). In addition, the well-known Framingham study, which has followed a Massachusetts population for decades, has uncovered the precise reverse of the accepted theory: the greater the intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, the lower the blood cholesterol (Fallon S et al. Comments on the Report of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 27 September 2004).
Evidence from the animal kingdom is yet another reason to ditch the ‘fat causes atherosclerosis’ theory. Even though domestic animals eat a diet every bit as fat-laden as people, they don’t get atherosclerosis - a fact well known to vets 50 years ago (Smith HA, Jones TC. Veterinary Pathology. Philadelphia: Lea &. Febiger, 1957).
Drs Rath and Pauling
It took 40 years for reason to emerge, when young unknown German doctor Matthias Rath joined forces with old, highly celebrated scientist Linus Pauling.
Rath was part of a group of researchers who had discovered that the major culprit in cholesterol was lipoprotein(a) [Lp(a)], an especially ‘sticky’ molecule that incorporates itself into the collagen found in artery walls, thereby causing athero-sclerosis. Pauling and Rath’s first breakthrough was to realise that atherosclerosis is not a disease, but possibly the body’s way of repairing or bolstering weak or damaged arteries (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 1990; 87: 6204-7).