According to the findings of a large European-based study, increased blood levels of vitamin C may reduce the risk of stroke by as much as 42 per cent.
Increased levels of the vitamin, associated with increased intake of fruit and vegetables, were found to offer significant cardiovascular benefits among the 20,649 men and women taking part in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer.
The researchers, led by Phyo Myint from the University of Cambridge, claim that blood levels of the vitamin could be used as a biological marker of lifestyle used to identify people at high risk of stroke.
Myint said: ‘An intriguing possibility is that the plasma vitamin C concentration is a good marker of a wider range of health behaviours, such as fruit and vegetable consumption, that may be protective against stroke. It is also plausible that vitamin C may biochemically affect stroke risk.’
Strokes occur when blood clots or an artery bursts in the brain and interrupts the blood supply to a part of the brain. It is the leading cause of disability and the third leading cause of death in Europe and the US.
Vitamin C and stroke risk: Assessing the results
Myint and his fellow researchers followed the subjects for 9.5 years and documented 448 strokes during this time. The subjects completed a health and lifestyle questionnaire at the start of the study, and blood samples were taken to measure vitamin C levels.
The highest average blood levels of vitamin C (greater than 66 micromoles per litre) were associated with a 42 per cent lower risk of stroke, compared to the lowest average blood levels (less than 41 micromoles per litre), after adjusting the results for potentially confounding factors such as age, sex, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, BMI, physical activity, and use of supplements.
When the Cambridge researchers excluded participants who consumed vitamin C-containing supplements the results were the same, indicating that the benefits could have been from vitamin C-rich foods, such as fruit and vegetables.
‘We believe that these findings are of interest for several reasons,’ stated the researchers. ‘First, the strong inverse association between plasma vitamin C and stroke suggests that plasma vitamin C is likely to be a good biomarker of whatever causal factors affect stroke risk, most plausibly the dietary intake of plant foods.
‘Second, irrespective of any causal associations, plasma vitamin C appears to be a good predictive risk indicator of stroke, independent of known risk factors such as age, BP, smoking, lipids, diabetes, and BMI.
‘Given that about half of the risk of stroke is unexplained by conventional cardiovascular disease risk factors and that the predictive validity of traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors appears to diminish with age, risk markers that may help to identify those persons at greatest risk of stroke for targeted preventive interventions with established therapies, such as BP reduction, may be of interest.’
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