Background: Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) might be protective for several chronic diseases. However, findings from prospective studies that relate ascorbic acid to cardiovascular disease or cancer are not consistent. We aimed to assess the relation between plasma ascorbic acid and subsequent mortality due to all causes, cardiovascular disease, ischaemic heart disease, and cancer.
Methods: We prospectively examined for 4 years the relation between plasma ascorbic acid concentrations and mortality due to all causes, and to cardiovascular disease, ischaemic heart disease, and cancer in 19 496 men and women aged 45-79 years. We recruited individuals by post using age-sex registers of general practices. Participants completed a health and lifestyle questionnaire and were examined at a clinic visit. They were followed-up for causes of death for about 4 years. Individuals were divided into sex-specific quintiles of plasma ascorbic acid. We used the Cox proportional hazard model to determine the effect of ascorbic acid and other risk factors on mortality.
Findings: Plasma ascorbic acid concentration was inversely related to mortality from all-causes, and from cardiovascular disease, and ischaemic heart disease in men and women. Risk of mortality in the top ascorbic acid quintile was about half the risk in the lowest quintile (p<0.0001). The relation with mortality was continuous through the whole distribution of ascorbic acid concentrations. 20 micromol/L rise in plasma ascorbic acid concentration, equivalent to about 50 g per day increase in fruit and vegetable intake, was associated with about a 20% reduction in risk of all-cause mortality (p<0.0001), independent of age, systolic blood pressure, blood cholesterol, cigarette smoking habit, diabetes, and supplement use. Ascorbic acid was inversely related to cancer mortality in men but not women.
Interpretation: Small increases in fruit and vegetable intake of about one serving daily has encouraging prospects for possible prevention of disease.