Willis made the crucial observation that atherosclerosis mainly occurs in the vessels near the heart, but what was so special about them? Although wide and apparently strong, it was their very proximity to the heart that was the problem, he concluded. The sheer pumping force of the heart put those vessels under constant mechanical stress, thus weakening them. So, furring of the arteries may not be a pathological deposition of fat, he suggested, but a means of artificially thickening the arteries to prevent damage (Can Med Assoc J, 1953; 69: 17-22).
Arguably, Willis should have been given a Nobel for his findings because, 30 years later, Drs Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein were awarded the 1985 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery that atherosclerotic plaques are deposit-ed in response to injury of the blood vessel wall.
But Willis went even further when he discovered the key role of vitamin C. He knew that guinea pigs were the only animals to get heart disease and, like Pauling, made the vitamin C connection (J Exp Med, 1956; 103: 199-205). He tested vitamin C on his more severe heart-disease patients, giving them what was then a high dose of 1.5 g/day. What he got was the first - and, so far, only - evidence that vitamin C can reverse heart disease when, in nearly a third of his patients, the atherosclerosis began to disappear (Can Med Assoc J, 1957; 77: 106-8).
Curiously, no one has ever tried to repeat this groundbreaking study, not even Pauling himself - who declared, with characteristic hubris, that the vitamin C-heart disease connection was so self-evident that it didn’t need clinical trials to prove it.
One recent convert to the benefits of vitamin C is British optometrist Dr Sidney Bush, who stumbled upon the connection while treating eye infections in contact-lens patients.
After prescribing vitamin C to prevent eye infections, on examining his patients, he noticed that the fine retinal blood vessels at the back of the eye, which are often clouded in mild atherosclerosis, were gradually beginning to clear. Bush found that the effective dosage was high - up to 10 g/day.
But the lesson for heart disease is clear. Says Bush, “Our discovery is a virtually perfect surrogate outcome predictor of coronary heart disease.”
As good as statins
Clearly, more research is needed to confirm whether vitamin C can reverse heart disease. But given the current EU campaign against high-dose supplements, such research is apparently unlikely.
However, there does appear to be a recent and growing interest in the role of vitamin C in heart disease within the bastions of conventional medicine. A number of new studies are contributory: one has found that vitamin C works similarly to statins, the drugs of choice for heart disease (Eur J Clin Nutr, 2005; 59: 978-81); another discovered that vitamin C inhibits oxidation of cholesterol (J Agric Food Chem, 2004; 52: 6818-23), and a third found that it can reduce atrial fibrillation (heart flutters), a potentially fatal condition related to atherosclerosis (Med Sci Monit, 2003; 9: RA225-9).
These recent studies are the first glimmers of a remarkable possibility: that the number-one killer in the West can be overcome by a vitamin.