It all started with a simple question from one of my blog readers at Heart Sisters. Another heart attack survivor asked me if I’d heard about the use of high-dose vitamin C and lysine to prevent or reverse coronary artery disease, a treatment duo often touted in health food stores. It turns out that almost any Canadian who reads any daily newspaper across our great country has likely heard of these particular supplements, thanks to a syndicated health columnist named W. Gifford-Jones MD whose columns have been published in over 70 newspapers in Canada and beyond.
He’s a University of Toronto- and Harvard-trained MD and author whose bio also includes “family doctor, hotel doctor and ship’s surgeon”. (That’s not his real name, by the way – which is Ken Walker). In one of his columns published in the Windsor Star in December, the 89-year old Gifford-Jones/Walker described his own personal experience taking this vitamin C and lysine combo:
“Following a severe coronary attack, cardiologists warned me I’d die without using cholesterol-lowering drugs. Rather, for the last 16 years I’ve relied on high doses of vitamin C and lysine as recommended by Dr. Linus Pauling. It was a risky decision at that time as there was no evidence that this combination could reverse coronary blockage.
“Now, photos of arteries show that combined vitamin C and lysine not only prevents but also reverses blocked arteries. This combination powder known as Medi-C Plus is available at health food stores.
“It’s a monumental discovery. But this research is collecting dust due to the closed minds of cardiologists who refuse to look at it.”
One of the “closed minds” objecting to this blanket endorsement of Vitamin C and lysine to reverse coronary artery disease belongs to endocrinologist Dr. Raphael Cheung of the Windsor Regional Hospital. He responded to the Windsor Star like this shortly after he read the December column:
“Dr. Gifford-Jones’ anecdotal experience belongs to medicine that was practiced half a century ago!”
But he also spanked the Star itself, asking why the newspaper shouldn’t bear some responsibility for running Gifford-Jones medical columns like this one in the first place:
“Why does (the Windsor Star) keep printing articles written by a retired OB-GYN regarding vascular health? Not knowing any better, there are patients who are at high risk for heart disease and stroke in our community who have stopped taking their medications after reading Gifford-Jones articles.
“While there is always a disclaimer at the end of a Gifford-Jones article that relieves him of any legal liability, the Windsor Star should be held to a higher standard by providing a more balanced approach by at least interviewing a medical expert in the field for another opinion.
“Our motto should be: First do no harm.”
Dr. Cheung also told the Star that he had noticed something else about the unreserved recommendation by Gifford-Jones/Walker of the Medi-C Plus supplement to miraculously prevent and reverse heart disease:
“I was surprised recently when a patient with coronary heart disease told me that he had stopped his heart medications and had started taking Dr. Gifford-Jones’s Medi-C Plus treatment purchased online.”
Suddenly, that folksy anecdote in his syndicated health column has now morphed from casual endorsement to retail marketing tool for the good doctor.
In fact, he’s able to use his considerable public profile (plus his free lectures and online webinars he calls “The Dynamic Duo For Fighting Heart Disease”) to shill his own W. Gifford-Jones MD line of supplements. He recommends that people consume 2-3 scoops of his Medi-C Plus a day; that’s 2,000 mg of vitamin C and 1,300 mg of lysine per scoop.
But evidence suggests that lysine supplements may interact with cardiac medications that can increase bleeding risk, such as anti-coagulant medications like Coumadin or anti-platelet medications like Plavix. Lysine may also increase the risk of low blood sugar if you take medication for diabetes, and Health Canada warns against taking lysine for more than six months at doses higher than 300 mg per day.
In Canada, we tend to take a dim view of docs who go retail.
Here in my province of British Columbia, for example, our B.C. College of Physicians & Surgeons code of conduct guidelines specifically warn MDs here against the practice, calling it “not only unethical, but constituting a direct conflict of interest”, adding:
“A conflict of interest occurs when a professional or business arrangement provides an opportunity for a physician to receive a personal benefit over and above payment for his or her professional services. Conflict of interest can be direct or indirect, real or perceived, financial or non‐financial.
“Such transactions might reasonably be perceived as self‐serving. Even if there is no direct financial gain for the physician, the selling of products might be considered ethically questionable since patients often believe that a physician’s recommendation naturally implies an endorsement of the product’s value and/or efficacy.”
I’ve added emphasis to that second sentence in the last paragraph because the Gifford-Jones/Walker website claims that sales of Medi-C Plus “help support the Gifford-Jones Professorship in Pain Control and Palliative Care at the University of Toronto.”
We don’t really know what “help support” means in this case. Does it mean that 50% of all Medi-C Plus sales do the “helping” – or just .05% of sales? And why doesn’t he spell this out for consumers?
Either way, much like the B.C. practice guidelines specify, the optics are sketchy even if a physician receives no money personally through retail product sales.
And aside from the pure stomach-churning queaziness surrounding a person with the letters M.D. after his name shilling dietary supplements produced within an entirely unregulated industry (as illustrated in his Twitter page below), there’s also the rather sticky issue of credibility.
Gifford-Jones/Walker cites the work of both Dr. Linus Pauling and Dr. Sydney Bush for their work on the benefits of mega doses of vitamin C, including its miraculous claim of preventing/curing diseases ranging from the common cold to cancer and heart disease. Pauling himself reportedly took at least 12,000 mg of vitamin C daily, and up to 40,000 mg if symptoms of a cold struck.  By comparison, according to the National Institutes of Health, the current Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for the vitamin is 75 mg per day for women (that’s the equivalent of eating one medium orange) or up to 120 mg if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and 90 mg for men (about 1/2 cup of red pepper).
But as Dr. Stephen Barrett of QuackWatch reminds us:
“Pauling is largely responsible for the widespread misbelief that high doses of vitamin C are effective against colds and other illnesses. While his basic science work was brilliant and his peace activist work was highly significant, his clinical vitamin C work was never accepted by the medical profession as it failed to withstand the scrutiny of clinical trials.”
“For many years, the largest corporate donor of The Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine that he founded in 1973 was Hoffmann-La Roche, the pharmaceutical giant that produces most of the world’s vitamin C.”
Besides Pauling, Gifford-Jones also defends his Medi-C Plus supplement by quoting the “monumental findings” of a researcher named Dr. Sydney Bush (actually an English optometrist) who claimed that vitamin C can reverse atherosclerosis. Bush developed an interest in cardiovascular disease at some point during 1998, when he noticed microscopic changes in blood vessels in the eye, calling his theory “nutritional preventative cardioretinometry. From approximately 2003, he began to “promote his findings in his shop window.”
But Gifford-Jones/Walker mocks those who dismiss the optometrist’s theories by asking:
“So what has happened to these monumental findings? Bush has been ridiculed by cardiologists.
“One has to ask whether cardiologists, by ignoring his results, are condemning thousands of people to an early coronary heart attack.”
Well, another thing that’s happened to those “monumental findings” is that Bush has recently been found guilty of misconduct, according to the U.K.’s General Optical Council. The Council found that Bush had violated its code of conduct requiring optometrists to “ensure that personal beliefs do not prejudice patient care.”
All allegations were proved and Bush’s name has now been erased from General Optical Council registers “for the protection of the public” – an outcome that merely confirms to conspiracy theorists that Bush and his believers continue to be persecuted by the evil forces of power.
High quality studies on the impact of vitamin C on cardiovascular health outcomes have certainly been mixed, like this large (over 14,000 men), randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled factorial trial in Boston whose conclusion offered “no support for the use of supplemental vitamin C for the prevention of cardiovascular disease.”  Other research has even shown that high supplemental vitamin C intake is actually associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in post-menopausal women with diabetes.
Meanwhile, the fine print disclaimer on Gifford-Jones/Walker’s own website warns:
“Natural products and any claims made about specific products on the site have not been evaluated by the United States Food and Drug Administration nor Health Canada.”
That’s known as a CYA disclaimer, strictly for legal liability protection. It’s like saying that, even though there’s no proof that any claims I make about this stuff is true, I will continue to keep on making them.
Or as Dr. Cheung wrote to the Windsor Star:
- Pauling L: Speech at Natural Foods Exposition, March 29, 1982, reported in Natural Foods Merchandiser, June 1982, p.65.
- Marshall CB. Vitamin C: Do High Doses Prevent Colds? Quackwatch, Oct 3, 1999.
- Duk Hee-Lee et al. Does supplemental vitamin C increase cardiovascular disease risk in women with diabetes? Am J Clin Nutr November 2004 vol. 80 no. 5 1194-1200.
- Howard D. Sesso et al.Vitamins E and C in the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Men: The Physicians’ Health Study II Randomized Controlled Trial. JAMA. 2008;300(18):2123-2133. doi:10.1001/jama.2008.600.
- When doctors go retail: is it okay to sell products?
- Medical quackery revisited
- Mayo Clinic: “Beware of alternative health care fraud”
- News flash: food is better than supplements for staying healthy
If you really want to do something healthy for your heart, go do at least 30 minutes of exercise today!
Great article. As a Canadian, I was surprised to see alternative medicine recognized by Health Canada.
Hi Mary – Health Canada does maintain a database with product-specific information on natural health products that have been issued a product licence by Health Canada. The supplement industry is largely unregulated.
I have been taking 2 to 3 grams of vitamin C each day for about 20 years.
If I feel a cold starting I double it and the cold disappears, usually next day.
I have not had the flue in 20 years. I am 79 years old.
I had a flue shot once about 10 years ago and I was sorry I did. I felt poorly for about a year afterward.
I believe you have to take at least 2 grams of vitamin C per day for a year or two before it really works.
I have always had dogs (they make a lot more C than 2 grams a day) I never saw a dog with a cold or flue.
Reblogged this on Health Communications and Health Advocacy and commented:
There are charlatans out there. Beware of Vitamin C and lysine and Dr. W. Gifford-Jones. See the post below from Carolyn Thomas of HeartSisters.
From my perspective most Doctors think inside the box,
They are all to quick to prescribe some experimental pill that the Pharma’s
are making a zillion dollars on, as that is the fashionable procedure, also
bolstered by the Pharma’s Rep’s huge expense accounts, what is the Doctor
supposed to do, I would guess, just buy into the profitable system, if they are wrong,
they can just bury their mistakes,
The natural stuff works a whole lot better, We are what we eat, pollutants in = early Death.
All of our diseases are caused by mankind and not by whole and unadulterated food.
Hello Mark and thanks for your opinion here. Nobody is saying that “whole” foods are causing disease, rather that just because something unproven is touted as “natural” or a “vitamin” does not mean it cures, prevents or reverses heart disease.
I am a 74 year-old male and I have been taking Vitamin C for 40 years in pill-form and/or powder. The first twenty-five of them, I was a cigarette and pipe smoker during which time, I took 4,000 mg per day and after quitting tobacco, I reduced the Vitamin C intake to 2,000 mg per day. Chest X-rays taken after I quit tobacco showed that my lungs have returned to normal, if they had deteriorated while I was a smoker. Over those 40 years, I have contracted influenza one time. I have cold symptoms come on about once per year whereupon I increase my dosage to 6,000 mg per day until the symptoms disappear (about two days). I have had a cardiac stress test at age 65 and the cardiologist stated I have the heart condition of a healthy 20-year old. I unequivocally believe that the Vitamin C has saved me from many bouts of influenza and at least 80 common cold sessions. For the past couple of years, I have been taking Medi-C+ and will continue to do so.
Thanks for sharing your perspective here, Dan. Dr. Gifford-Jones would agree with you, as he wrote to me this morning:
#1 I’m against big pharma
#2 Obviously the good doctor is against me and that’s OK But he leaves out a number of points
Anyone looking at the before and after photos would have to admit there is a dramatic change. I also visited Bush in England and looked at his research. He is a victim of bureaucracy.
Of course the Harvard study showed no change in CV risk . Why should it ? My Alma Mater and the good doctor should know a multi-vitamin pill only contains 75 mg of C !!!!!!
Re the finances I’ve been generous in the past ie the Gifford-Jones Professorship in Pain Control and Palliative Care at the U of Toronto Medical School ($500,000) and I will be generous in the future.
No one ever repaid me for the thousands of dollars it cost me to legalize heroin for terminal cancer care. A five year struggle against stupidity
Time: August 16, 2014 at 7:16 am
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I used to get between 2 and 4 colds a winter, every winter.for many years. Since I started taking Cardio C, I don;t get any colds now, or rather, I sometimes feel like I am starting to get them occasionally, but then I just up the vitamin C for a few days and the cold never seems to take hold.. My cholesterol levels seem fine since I went on this product, so yeah, I plan on continuing it for sure.
I started taking a Lysine supplement in 2013, along with my usual Vitamin E, multivitamin and Vitamin C. For my entire 45 years up to that point, I had suffered every winter with several cases of the flu, bronchitis and pneumonia. I have never gone longer than 4 months without missing time from school or work. It has now been over 17 months since I have had a single minute of missed work (or other activities) due to illness. I had no bronchitis nor lung infections since, and the severity and length of colds and flus have drastically dropped.
I have been at a loss as to this change in my health. I have done nothing else differently except change my vitamin supplements – I take Vitamine E, Lysine, Vitamin C, and a generic multi-vitamin every morning (note that, for most of my adult life, I have taken a daily multivitamin and vitamin C). My diet, exercise, and environment are all the same. The only change was the supplements.
I am a diabetic with high cholesterol. My blood sugar levels have been gradually decreasing and my good cholesterol has gone up. I’m waiting on the results from my latest tests and am hopeful to see the same trend continuing.
I do not know whether the supplements have made the difference or if it’s some unknown environmental factor, or just an anomaly. But I do know that I am afraid to stop taking the supplements in case my health regresses again!
This improvement in my health did cause me to take some other recent steps, though (and these are all in the last 6 months) – I went to a sleep study and was diagnosed with sleep apnea and have been using a CPAP machine for three months (HUGE improvement in my sleep and quality of life) and stopped drinking caffeinated beverages 5 months ago (again, sleeping better, no more odd chest pains).
One more thing to note – my doctor is fully aware of my supplements and is fine with them as long as there is no interaction with the plethora of pharmaceutical drugs I take (nothing for cholesterol but several for hypertension and diabetes).
So, is the combination of Lysine and Vitamin C? Is it the addition of the multivitamin and the extra Vitamin E? All of the above?
Hi Carolyn: Came across this while looking at the research on Vitamin C and heart disease. There appears to be evidence that Vitamin C is helpful in reducing for athletes training in subarctic conditions (which I suppose would include much of Canada — and certainly Fairbanks): “However, it is effective at preventing colds when consumed regularly by athletes training in subarctic conditions. We also found that regular vitamin C consumption may reduce the duration of cold symptoms in both adults and children, but it does not decrease the severity of cold symptoms.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19432914 … Thanks for your continued good work…
Nice to hear from you, Steve – thanks for weighing in here! What this study concludes is: “Vitamin C is not effective at preventing the common cold in the general adult population; however, it is effective at preventing colds when consumed regularly by athletes training in subarctic conditions.” Talk about your microscopically small demographic! So their conclusions mean good news for subarctic athletes i.e. living immediately south of the Arctic Circle in very brief summers, bitterly cold winters, little vegetation (that covers a tiny minority of the Canadian population who live in far Northern Quebec and Ontario, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories or Nunuvut – and sadly none of us who live down here along the balmy west coast! And apparently none of us who are not “athletes”!
Hope you’re doing well and keeping warm up there in Fairbanks.
It amuses me when a physician pretends to be ‘worried about my health’ and the supplements I may be taking. The last thing they care about is our health. Observe how they treat people and it will be obvious to a five year old.They took their Hippocratic oath and turned it elegantly into plain hypocrisy. Money power respect, that’s all they want…well they won’t get that from me 🙂
Sure, charlatans exist everywhere including in dentist and physician’s offices. But to me the biggest charlatan is the so-called ‘health-care’ industry and they have a lot to lose if people start finding alternative ways to heal and prevent disease. They would like to continue having a monopoly on your health and present to the public a very narrow definition of ‘proof’.
We’re supposed to trash all case reports from successful alternative treatments and believe in double-blind studies only, so that the only form of ‘knowledge’ and ‘proof’ can come from the same people who sell us synthetic drugs that do more harm and mostly don’t even work anyways. The “harmaceutical” industry wants not only to have the monopoly over treating you, they also want to control the information you can access and how you should evaluate and trust it. Ideally you should only trust your doctor and the FDA, that would be in their best interests…
If you wonder if something will work for you, like lysine and Vit C, simply go to the store buy it, stop being a chicken and use the proper dosage that other people had success with, and check your results after a couple of months. Ideally post them on the internet where people can witness your success. If it doesn’t work, get some advice from others who tried it and see if the regimen can be altered to achieve better results. Supplements require different dosages for each individual; that’s one of the reasons why the cited studies fail to show results. The other main reason is the dosage is chosen far too low, and many experts in the field think this is done intentionally.
I have been taking 3k-5k mg of Vitamin C and 3k-4k of lysine daily since my heart attack in 2005. It was a rarity that I missed a day. I was also taking 3k of fish oil and 100 mg of CoQ10. I had either a CAT scan or an echo done every year. It would alternate, one year echo next year CAT scan. None of them showed any change from year to year. Went into Atrial Fibrillation in January 2015 and had an echo done. Once again unremarkable.
February 2015 came along and started having chest/shoulder pains on mild exertion. Went to the ER room and had all sorts of blockages. 70% and 99% in the RCA. 70% PDA, 80% AM and 2 more 30% in other areas. Had to have 3 more stents installed.
I wanted the Vitamin C and lysine to work. I really did. What’s more, I thought it was working. I was very surprised by the blockages. I walk at least 3 miles a day in my normal day of work, and perform martial arts at least 2 days a week.
Roger, I’m sorry your dedicated regime of Vitamin C and lysine supplements did not have the good results you had been promised (and had been paying for) during the past 10 years. I hope you continue to recover from your recent cardiac procedures. Keep up your healthy physical activities!
Hi Roger, Can you tell me what the manufacturer name of the product you were taking? Also were you taking meds during the same time? What were the dosages? Were you consistent with the dosages of the supplements you were taking? I am a heart attack survivor and would be interested in everything that you are doing? Thank you,
I know of one case where a young man took large amounts of vitamin C for allergies and came down with kidney stones. I don`t know if that happens in older people or not.
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