Vitamin C: A genuine natural treatment for AF?

Atrial fibrillation is a common heart rhythm disturbance which may impact on both quality and quantity of life. 

AF can also come and go and when a patient does develop an episode of AF, they can be very symptomatic with palpitations, breathlessness, fatigue and tiredness. We also know that AF begets AF. The more AF, you get the more you will have in the future.

Whilst there are many pharmaceutical agents that may be used to reduce the burden of AF in patients, these are often associated with side-effects and can also be very costly and therefore unsurprisingly, patients would prefer natural alternatives. The problem is that most of modern medical practice is driven by the pharmaceutical industry who would never fund a study large enough to study a natural agent and therefore the common argument against using perhaps a natural supplement would be that there is lack of evidence. Of course, there is a lack of evidence because no-one will do the experiments!

I have become increasingly interested in seeing if there are any small scale studies which show any benefit from natural supplements on AF occurrence and AF recurrence and this is where I chanced on some research on the potential benefits of Vitamin C in AF which I will share with you today.

We know that a process called Oxidative stress (which I don’t fully understand) has been implicated in both the pathogenesis and perpetuation of AF. It therefore would seem reasonable to hypothesise that those agents that may have anti-oxidant properties could perhaps help reduce AF. VItamin C is one such naturally occurring potent, water-soluble anti-oxidant.

In 2001, a group of researchers led by a scientist called Cynthia Carnes became interested in the antioxidant effects  of Ascorbate on the atria (the chambers that malfunction in AF). They did an animal based experiment where they took 11 dogs and put a wire in the atria and delivered electrical impulses to the atria at a rate of 400/min and then studied the effects of this on the electrics within the atria . They were particularly interested in something called the atrial effective refractory period (AERP) which is the time when the heart muscle is refractory to any new electrical signal. if the atrial refractory period is shortened then it increases the likelihood of more heart rhythm irritability/AF etc. They found that pacing was associated with both a shortening in the AERP and a fall in ascorbate levels in the tissue and if you supplemented the dogs with extra ascorbate before-hand then you did not see this shortening in the AERP suggesting that in someway supplementation with ascorbate protected against more atrial electrical irritability.

These authors became interested in these findings and decided to do a study on patients and they took 50 patients who had been planned for a heart bypass operation and gave them 2g of extended release ascorbic acid the night before surgery followed by 500mg bd for 5 days after surgery and compared them to age matched controls and found that the group of patients who were given Vitamin C had significantly less AF in the post-operative period (16.3% vs 34.9%. Whilst there were some flaws in this very small study, it clearly was interesting that this natural medication which is well tolerated and without much in the way of side effects may be associated with less AF.

There was another interesting study in 2007 by a scientist called Eslami who wanted to study the effects of Ascorbic acid in combination with beta blockers compared to beta blockers alone in patients undergoing surgery in 100 patients and found that the incidence of AF in the Via C group was 4% and in the control group was 26%

In 2010 Papoulidis published a paper showing that after bypass, the incidence of AF, hospitalisation time, ICU time and time interval for conversion back to a normal heart rhythm was significantly lower in the Vitamin C supplemented patients.

In 2011, a scientist called Harling looked at all the data pertaining to Vitamin C and concluded that when you put everything together, the data indicate that Vitamin C supplementation does significantly reduce the amount of postoperative AF although the quality of the studies so far has been poor and therefore a bigger better designed study is warranted before incorporating Vitamin C in routine practice.

What about AF in the non-cardiac surgery setting? There are very few data. In 2005, Kornatzapoulos published a study looking at the effects of vitamin C supplementation to see if it reduces recurrence of AF in patients who underwent electrical shock treatment or cardioversion and found that within 1 week AF recurred in 36.3% of patients in the control group and only 4.5% of patients in the Vet C group. In addition they found that inflammatory markers decreased in patients who underwent cardioversion whilst taking vitamin C.

So clearly very interesting data which makes a compelling case for studying this naturally occurring cheap  and generally very safe supplement. The only problem is who is going to do this study? And in the absence of a big study, patients may continue to be deprived of an agent which potentially makes a significant difference to AF patients because most doctors these days are protocol driven rather than being patient-driven. This is where patient empowerment comes in. This is where patients can come together and say ‘look i understand that there are gaps in the evidence base but this is generally a safe product and therefore may be i am willing to try it and see how it goes’.

I hope you found this video useful. If you have had positive experiences with Vit C or negative experiences then this would be a great place to share your experiences and this way, patients benefit from each other rather than being at the mercy of pharmaceutical companies, economists and protocol-bound medics.

About the Author:

I'm Dr Sanjay Gupta, a Consultant Cardiologist with specialist interest in Cardiac Imaging at York Teaching Hospital in York, UK. I believe that high quality reliable jargon-free information about health should be available at no cost to everyone in the world.


  1. doreen 6th April 2021 at 10:18 am - Reply

    Hi If you are interested in Vit C for the heart, then Linus Pauling did extensive studies

    Ray Ellis in the States, founder of Save Your Hart, knows more about him than anybody I know . I think Ray has retired now but he is still mentioned on the web site

    I did take their supplement until it got too difficult to bring it to the UK

    Regards Doreen Noon

  2. Eileen Gray 7th April 2021 at 2:54 am - Reply

    What kind of vitamin C? How many milligrams?

  3. Neil 6th May 2021 at 7:39 pm - Reply

    A heart surgeon in Canada had a heart attack in his 80’s when he was still working. I attended a speech he did when he was 93. He said the recommended heart medication would kill you and that you should take at least 6 grams of vitamin C each day for the heart. He is still alive at age 96. I have been taking large doses of vitamin C for years. I have AF and don’t take any medication. I don’t know if vitamin C helps with AF.

  4. Neil 6th May 2021 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    For years, the heart doctor I mentioned above has been writing, outside the box, articles on health. Search for. W. Gifford-Jones, MD – Medical Tips

  5. Neil 6th May 2021 at 7:54 pm - Reply

    For years the heart doctor that I mentioned above has been writing, outside the box, articles on health.

    Search for: W. Gifford-Jones, MD – Medical Tips

  6. Neil 6th May 2021 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    Search docgiff for the doctor who I mentioned above.

  7. Julia 24th May 2021 at 7:28 am - Reply

    Very interesting article and video so I’m off to try it. Many thanks

  8. Janet 21st July 2021 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    I am 63, female. I first experienced heart arrythmia when I was 26 and backpacking in Baja California’s Sierra San Pedro Martir for a geology class. Middle of nowhere. Lots of sun, lots of pollen, lots of exertion, pushing through high thorny brush. Arrythmia has come and gone over the years, especially present when mentally stressed. Two years ago it would not go away. I drank a soda and thought I was going to pass out. I finally began reading ALOT on webmd and healthline. I knew that the last two times I had my blood tested over the years, my K was at the low limit so I began there. Dropped caffiene. I split my salt in thirds with iodized, non-iodized and salt substitute. That helped a lot, albeit not completely. Then I looked at iron and began taking a supplement, read that taking it with orange juice (not calcium foods) is best, so started that and now drink 12 oz of orange juice every day with my supplements, which now include a multi-vitamin, glucosamine chondroitin, fish oil and very recently CoQ10. At the same time I also changed up my diet ALOT and got the sugar consumption way down!! I used to think a lot of starchy foods were empty calories and looked only at calorie to fat to protien ratios. I added organic potatoes so I can eat the skin, bananas, red bell peppers, variety of nuts, variety of canned beans, red lettuce, dried fruits, fresh fruits and vegetables, steamed vegetables, I have color in my face now. And I like the A/C at 68 instead of 63 this summer. Started this at 235 lbs, now at 220 (sadly) but the arrythmia is all but disappeared (the strong black tea habit is hard to break). And yes, I do think orange juice was helpful.

    • Janet 21st July 2021 at 6:19 pm - Reply

      PS. Beginning five years ago I started getting rid of sources of mental stress ASAP. That included a very good friend several years ago who hyped me about everything I said and did and couldn’t/wouldn’t stop it.

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