Lack of Vitamin D Ups Heart Risk
Vitamin D deficiency has long been linked with weak muscles and bones. Now research shows a lack of the “sunshine” vitamin may also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). In fact, evidence is mounting from numerous studies that low vitamin D levels could play a role in a host of CVD risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. What’s more, a lack of the vitamin may be a direct factor in cardiovascular events, including stroke and congestive heart failure.
In a review article just published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), James H. O’Keefe, M.D., cardiologist and director of Preventive Cardiology at the Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, and his co-authors list practical recommendations to screen for and treat low vitamin D levels, especially in patients with risk factors for CVD and diabetes. The article points out that recent data from the Framingham Heart Study suggests people with vitamin D levels below 15 ng/ml were twice as likely to experience a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event within the next five years compared to those with higher levels of vitamin D. This elevated risk remained even when researchers adjusted for other well-known cardiovascular risk factors.
“Restoring vitamin D levels to normal is important in maintaining good musculoskeletal health, and it may also improve heart health and prognosis. Vitamin D deficiency is an unrecognized, emerging cardiovascular risk factor, which should be screened for and treated,” Dr. O’Keefe, M.D., said in a media release. “Vitamin D is easy to assess, and supplementation is simple, safe and inexpensive.”
The Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) review points out that about half of U.S. adults and 30 percent of children and teenagers are estimated to have vitamin D deficiency. Low vitamin D levels are believed to raise the risk of hypertension and a stiffening and thickening of the heart and blood vessels. By altering hormone levels and immune system function, vitamin D deficiency can also increase the risk of diabetes, a major contributor to CVD.
According to Dr. O’Keefe’s statement to the press, vitamin D deficiency is far more prevalent than once thought. This may be due to the fact most of the body’s vitamin D usually comes from exposure to the sun – but indoor lifestyles and use of sunscreen, which eliminates 99 percent of vitamin D synthesis by the skin, means many people are not getting enough of the essential vitamin. “We are outside less than we used to be, and older adults and people who are overweight or obese are less efficient at making vitamin D in response to sunlight,” said Dr. O’Keefe.
To increase levels of vitamin D, Dr. O’Keefe suggests exposing yourself to sunlight for 10 minutes between the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., if you are Caucasian. If you have increased or dark skin pigmentation, you may need to spend more time in the sunshine. Other sources of vitamin D include salmon, vitamin D-fortified foods, some cereals and supplements.