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Can Vitamins Prevent Heart Disease?

What is the connection between certain vitamins and preventing heart disease ?

Heart Disease
Heart Disease

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are compounds that prevent damage from oxygen molecules known as free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules produced when the body burns sugar and fat to provide your cells with energy. Free radicals damage cells, and may lead to the development of cancer and heart disease. How? Free radicals appear to promote the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), one type of cholesterol in your body. When LDL becomes oxidized, it’s more likely to cause a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries.

Some evidence suggests that this unhealthy oxidation can be prevented by the antioxidants found in vegetables and fruits. These antioxidants include:

  • vitamin C — found in citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, peppers and leafy green vegetables
  • vitamin E — found in vegetable oils, margarine, eggs, fish, whole-grain cereals, dried beans and wheat germ
  • beta carotene — found in orange, yellow and green vegetables, such as squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, carrots, mangoes, peaches, red peppers, spinach and romaine lettuce

Getting these antioxidants from vitamin pills doesn’t carry the same benefits as getting them naturally in fruits and vegetables. Studies of vitamin E supplements have shown mixed results. Evidence also suggests that vitamin C, beta-carotene and selenium supplements do not prevent coronary heart disease.

Niacin (Vitamin B-3)

Niacin, in large doses, can lower total cholesterol, triglyceride and LDL cholesterol blood levels. (That’s good news.) Niacin can also raise HDL cholesterol levels. That’s good, too.) Yet taking high doses of niacin can also cause many negative side effects such as liver damage, gout and elevated blood sugars. Even though you can buy niacin without prescription, you should only use high dose niacin under a doctor’s guidance.

Folic Acid (folate)

High blood levels of homocysteine (a natural chemical in everyone’s body) may lead to clogged arteries and increase the risk of blood clots forming in the arteries. By simply getting more folic acid — which lowers homocysteine — you may be able to help cut the risk of heart disease or stroke.

Good food sources of folic acid include beans and peas, whole-grain cereals, nuts, seeds, orange juice, green leafy vegetables and spinach. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables (the recommended five daily servings) should be adequate for most people.

To make sure you get enough folic acid consider taking a 400-microgram supplement daily. That’s the amount found in most multivitamins.

Vitamin B, Multiple

Most B complex vitamins contain B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12 and folic acid. For people with high homocysteine blood levels, many experts recommend taking one B complex vitamin in addition to a regular multivitamin each day. This combination is safe and often reduces the homocysteine level. There is some scientific evidence to suggest that this does decrease chest pain and heart attacks, but the evidence is not conclusive.

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