OSU Research Targets Metabolic Syndrome

Maret Traber

Recent OSU research is offering a solution for the roughly 35 percent of U.S. adults that suffer from the potentially deadly medical condition known as metabolic syndrome. A patient is diagnosed with metabolic syndrome when exhibiting three or more of these medical conditions: high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, low levels of the good kind of cholesterol, and abdominal obesity. The syndrome carries a high risk factor for some serious diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, and even cognitive dysfunction and dementia.

Luckily, this treatment is available over the counter and can be found at your local grocery store, in the form of fresh produce. Nobody tell big pharma.

Maret Traber, Principal Investigator and Ava Helen Pauling Professor at OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute (and First Lady of Corvallis), reveals that increasing vitamin C intake with fruits and vegetables can help stave off the effects of the syndrome. “Eat five to 10 servings a day and then you’ll get the fiber, you’ll get the vitamin C, and you’ll really protect your gut with all of those good things,” explained Traber. 

A diet high in saturated fats triggers a cycle of vitamin C and E depletion that compounds in the gut, causing microbial imbalances that can damage the body. If a patient consumes extra servings of vitamin C, the body stands a much better chance of combatting the symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome. That’s the extremely short version, anyway. We’ll link to the OSU press release below, which takes a deeper dive into the science behind how a diet high in saturated fats perpetuates the condition, and how vitamin C helps to protect the body.

Traber and her team have proposed a study to the National Institutes of Health to further investigate the subject, and are waiting for the government to re-open so they can explore their funding opportunities.

Linus Pauling’s Favorite Vitamin
Ironically, Professor Traber’s research almost seems like an echo from the past, calling back to decades-old research from her school’s namesake, Linus Pauling. In 1970, Pauling released a book titled “Vitamin C and the Common Cold,” encouraging his readers to consume 3,000 daily milligrams of the vitamin in supplement form. He advocated for mega-dosing vitamin C for many years, and claimed that it could cure a myriad of conditions including snakebites and HIV, as well as add decades to a patient’s life.

Of course, vitamin C is not a veritable cure-all, and Pauling’s findings on vitamin C and the common cold were even proven false, though the myth of vitamin C as a cold treatment exists to this day. Traber’s research, however, shows that larger-than-normal doses of the vitamin do have benefits in the treatment of metabolic syndrome, which in turn relates to several diseases and medical conditions. Traber is advocating for the consumption of the vitamin in fruit and vegetable form rather than the supplements that Pauling recommended, however. The damaged portion of Pauling’s legacy may never be repaired, but this new research shows that we are still learning about the medical uses of Pauling’s favorite vitamin.

Health, Disease, and Poverty
Metabolic syndrome has been shown to have increased prevalence in specific groups of people, and many of these people have little access to the fresh fruits and vegetables required to combat the condition. A 2007 study from the Department of Psychiatry and Douglas Hospital Research Centre at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec indicated that people with economic insecurity, specifically women, are more likely to develop the conditions that lead to the syndrome. A 2017 study from the Journal of the American Heart Association linked socioeconomic stress to metabolic syndrome in black youth.

Some of those at the highest risk of developing the syndrome have the least access to the fresh fruits and vegetables needed to combat the condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults in poverty eat less fresh produce than the rest of the country. While affordability of fresh food is an issue, some Americans don’t even have a nearby place to purchase healthy food.

“Food deserts” are areas, usually urban, where there are no grocery stores to buy healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The 23 million American residents of these communities, many of whom do not have access to reliable transportation, are forced to purchase food at convenience stores and gas stations. Rural communities can also be classified as food deserts; it is estimated that 335,000 Americans live more than 20 miles from a supermarket.

This intersection of health and social justice is not lost on nutrition experts like Maret Traber. “I think it’s amazing – absolutely amazing – that here in one of the richest countries in the world, we have people that don’t have enough money for food,” she said.

It has long been known that fresh fruits and vegetables are essential elements of our diet, and thanks to OSU’s research, we have more specifics on how these foods can benefit us. These foods, however, are not as readily available to those among us who need them most, and poverty continues to be one of the largest health risks that we face.

Learn more about the science behind metabolic syndrome here: https://today.oregonstate.edu/news/metabolic-syndrome-patients-need-more-vitamin-c-break-cycle-antioxidant-depletion


By Jay Sharpe