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Jun 26, 2013

Could a Lack of Vitamin D Increase Risk for Heart Disease?

Research suggests link between vitamin D deficiencies and increased cardiovascular risk.

In recent years, many studies have suggested that a lack of vitamin D may increase heart disease risk. Since many Americans have vitamin D deficiencies, this possible risk factor is a big concern when it comes to heart health. Should we all be taking steps to reduce our cardiovascular risk by increasing vitamin D levels? According to a review of recent research, experts are not convinced and say that additional research is needed to better understand the impact of vitamin D on heart health.

Our bodies can get vitamin D in a number of different ways. While vitamin D can be found in foods like fish, eggs and fortified milk, simply getting about 10 minutes of sun a day can be enough to prevent vitamin D deficiencies. Because unlike many vitamins, our bodies can actually produce vitamin D on their own in response to exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. However, people tend to spend less time outdoors these days and when we do, we tend to wear sunscreen, which can block the rays that trigger vitamin D production. As a result, many Americans today suffer from vitamin D deficiencies. So should we be worried?

According to a review published in the European Heart Journal, many studies have demonstrated that vitamin D deficiency can increase cardiovascular risk. Studies have shown an association between low vitamin D levels and increased risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease risk. However, after analyzing these past studies, experts are still unclear whether vitamin D deficiency actually causes increased cardiovascular risk. For example, it’s possible that people with low vitamin D levels tend to have higher cardiovascular risk, because they spend less time outdoors exercising. And without fully understanding exactly how vitamin D levels effect heart disease risk, it’s difficult to advise patients one way or the other.

But a few things are clear. Vitamin D deficiency (marked by serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D<20ng/mL) is associated with most risk factors for heart disease and has been linked to increased cardiovascular risk. Although more research is needed to determine whether or not low vitamin D levels cause heart disease, maintaining optimal vitamin D levels (marked by serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D>30ng/mL) can help protect our hearts and promote better health. And for most individuals, casual sunlight exposure and consumption of fatty fish or fish oils is all we need to maintain optimal vitamin D levels.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is vitamin D?
  • Vitamin D is an essential dietary nutrient, which can be found in foods like fish, eggs and fortified milk. Our bodies can also product vitamin D in response to exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D plays a number of important roles in our body, like helping with the absorption of calcium, and studies have shown that vitamin D deficiencies may be linked to increased risk for heart disease.
  • How much vitamin D should I get daily?
  • Most individuals can get enough vitamin D through casual sun exposure and consuming foods containing vitamin D, such as fish, eggs and fortified milk. The current recommended dietary allowance of vitamin D in the United States ranges between 400 and 800 IU/day.

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