Babies need vitamin A to help their hearts develop properly. But the effects of vitamin A on your heart after you’re born aren’t as clear-cut. Vitamin A does affect your heart in several ways – that much is known. But researchers haven’t yet decided whether the net effect of this vitamin on the heart is positive or negative. There have been plenty of studies conducted on this topic, but they seem to come to opposite conclusions. Whatever the final answer is, vitamin A is not a topic we should ignore.
According to a recent study, the body definitely needs vitamin A to survive. However, according to lead author Mary Ann Asson-Batres, PhD, “The mammalian body may manipulate vitamin A in ways that are not beneficial.” When we consume vitamin A, the body turns it into one of three things: retinaldehyde, which the eyes use to see; retinoic acid, which activates proteins in cells that have retinoic acid receptors; and retinyl esters, which the liver stores to use as a backup form of vitamin A.
The research team found that the heart has some of these retinoic acid receptors. So they decided to find out what happens if the body doesn’t get enough vitamin A. They did so by studying mice modified to be unable to store vitamin A in their livers. Then they fed them a diet deficient in this vitamin.
What they found was surprising. The mice’s hearts maintained themselves differently than did those of the mice’s non-deficient counterparts by expressing different genes. The deficient mice actually had more cells available to replace heart cells when they were damaged and had less heart damage after underdoing surgically induced heart attacks. In fact, the modified mice who remained deficient in vitamin A fared better than did modified mice who received vitamin A in their diets after the heart attack.
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Dr. Asson-Batres believes this result could suggest that taking in extra vitamin A after a heart attack “may actually impair the heart’s ability to generate new cells that could provide needed repair factors or cells that could prevent tissue damage.” However, she’s quick to stress that more research is needed before definitive recommendations can be made about how to use – or not use – vitamin A to protect your heart. And, in fact, this report is contradicted by other reports on vitamin A and cardiovascular disease.
For example, in one recent study researchers looked at 441 men and women with diabetes. People with diabetes are much more prone to cardiovascular disease than the general population. At the beginning of the study they measured their vitamin A (serum retinol) levels. Then at the end of five years, they compared their vitamin A levels with the death rate from cardiovascular disease. They divided them into three groups according to their vitamin A levels. Those in the group with the highest vitamin A levels were 73% less likely to have died than those in the lower groups. This decreased risk from vitamin A was entirely separate from any other risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, homocysteine levels, CRP, and blood sugar. The authors concluded that vitamin A levels were protective against cardiovascular disease independent of any other risk factors. So what’s it all mean?
It might mean that humans are not exactly like mice, although sometimes the difference is not all that noticeable. Or it might mean as Dr. Asson-Batres stated that taking vitamin A in high doses is not advisable during and immediately after a heart attack. So what should you do if you have a heart attack?
First, do exactly what the cardiologist tells you to do. Relax, take your medications, use oxygen, and let your body heal. Then after the attack has passed, go see a doctor well experienced in chelation therapy. And if at all possible, find one also trained in ozone therapy. Chelation doctors can be found at www.acam.org. And ozone doctors can be found at www.aaot.us. And for now, it seems like a good idea to avoid vitamin A and even foods rich in vitamin A for 8 weeks after the heart attack.
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Brazionis L, Walker KZ, et al. Plasma retinol: a novel marker for cardiovascular disease mortality in Australian adults.
Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2012 Oct;22(10):914-20.