What do Vitamin D and Heart Health Have in Common?

The answer is simple. Sunshine. Exposing your skin to the sun (without sunscreen) produces vitamin D and helps your heart work better. Sunshine, vitamin D and heart health is a great combination.

Vitamin D Deficiency and Heart Risk

Several large studies have shown that people with low vitamin D levels were twice as likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other heart-related event during follow-up, compared with those with higher vitamin D levels.

According to a new study, men with lower levels of vitamin D are two and a half times as likely to suffer a heart attack. Dr. Edward Giovannucci of the Harvard School of Public Health authored the study and said, “Those with low vitamin D, on top of just being at higher risk for heart attack in general, were at particularly high risk to have a fatal heart attack.”

For 10 years, Dr. Edward Giovannucci studied nearly 500 health professionals between the ages of 40 to 75 who’d survived a heart attack. During the same period, he also studied about 1,000 other men who had no history of cardiovascular issues. What he found was that the men who consistently had low levels of vitamin D were the ones most at risk for heart ailments.

“Perhaps having these chronically low levels of vitamin D may be having these subtle physiological changes in a lot of tissues,” Dr. Giovannucci said. He added that there are other ways vitamin D can defend against heart diseases: it might lower blood pressure, regulate inflammation, and or reduce respiratory infections in winter.

Of all the vitamins I’m always telling you to pump into your body, vitamin D is one of my all-time favorites. If you’ve been with me for some time, you already know the highlights of what it can d it prevents falls in the elderly, helps increase lung cancer survival, prevents multiple sclerosis, and helps treat steroid resistant asthma. I imagine the list is only going to get longer as time goes by and more research is done.

Here's what he had to say about the subject.

As for me, I need no further convincing. I’m heading outside right now – and getting my vitamin D while I enjoy the benefits of a nice walk.

Vitamin D and Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

Vitamin D inhibits a chemical that raises blood pressure.

The results of epidemiological and clinical studies suggest an inverse relationship between serum vitamin D levels and blood pressure.

Data from epidemiological studies suggest that conditions that decrease vitamin D synthesis in the skin, such as having dark skin and living in temperate latitudes, are associated with increased prevalence of hypertension.

A controlled clinical trial in 18 hypertensive men and women living in the Netherlands found that exposure to UVB radiation three times weekly for six weeks during the winter increased serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and significantly decreased 24-hour ambulatory systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements by an average of 6 mm Hg (90).

In randomized controlled trials of vitamin D supplementation, a combination of 1,600 IU/day of vitamin D and 800 mg/day of calcium for eight weeks significantly decreased systolic blood pressure in elderly women by 9% compared to calcium alone, but supplementation with 400 IU of vitamin D daily or a single dose of 100,000 IU of vitamin D did not significantly lower blood pressure in elderly men and women over a two-month period.

At present, data from controlled clinical trials are too limited to determine whether vitamin D supplementation will be effective in lowering blood pressure or preventing hypertension, but based on these findings it seems that it would.

Sunshine: An Easy Way to Improve Heart Health

"Vitamin D deficiency is an unrecognized, emerging cardiovascular risk factor, which should be screened for and treated," says researcher James H. O'Keefe, MD, director of preventive cardiology at the Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo., in a news release. "Vitamin D is easy to assess, and supplementation is simple, safe and inexpensive."

Preventing and treating heart disease in some patients could be as simple as getting out in the sun more often or supplementing their diet with extra vitamin D, according to two new studies at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray, Utah.

Researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute last fall demonstrated the link between vitamin D deficiency and increased risk for coronary artery disease. These new studies show that treating vitamin D deficiency with supplements may help to prevent or reduce a person's risk for cardiovascular disease and a host of other chronic conditions. They also establish what level of vitamin D further enhances that risk reduction.

Study findings were presented at the American College of Cardiology 59th annual scientific session in Atlanta on March 15, 2010.

Vitamin D vs. Heart Disease: Study Details

The first study involved more than 9,400 patients whose blood tests revealed low vitamin D levels during a routine trip to the doctor. Their average vitamin D level was 19.3 nanograms per milliliter; levels of 30 are generally considered "normal," according to J. Brent Muhlestein, MD, the Institute's director of cardiovascular research.

At their next follow-up visit, about half had raised their vitamin D levels to above 30 nanograms per milliliter.

Compared with patients whose vitamin D levels were still low, patients who raised their vitamin D levels were 33% less likely to have a heart attack, 20% less likely to develop heart failure, and 30% less likely to die over an average follow-up period of one year.

In the second study, the researchers placed more than 41,000 patients into three categories based on their levels of vitamin D -- normal, moderate deficiency, and severe deficiency. Then they combed their medical records to see who had been diagnosed with heart disease or stroke. As expected, patients with severe deficiency were most likely to have been diagnosed with heart disease or stroke.

Then the researchers put all the information into a computer algorithm to see if there is an optimal level of vitamin D when it comes to heart disease prevention."While normal has generally been considered to be 30, some people have suggested 40 or 50 is better.

"What we found is that people who increased their vitamin D blood level to 43 nanograms per milliliter had the lowest rates of heart disease and stroke. But increasing it beyond that, say to 60 or 70, offered no greater benefit," he says.

Vitamin D Replacement Therapy Helps Your Heart

"Vitamin D replacement therapy has long been associated with reducing the risk of fractures and diseases of the bone," says Dr. J. Brent Muhlestein, MD, director of cardiovascular research at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute. "But our findings show that vitamin D could have far greater implications in the treatment and reduction of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions than we previously thought."

For the first study, researchers followed two groups of patients for an average of one year each. In the first study group, over 9,400 patients, mostly female, reported low initial vitamin D levels, and had at least one follow up exam during that time period. Researchers found that 47 percent of the patients who increased their levels of vitamin D between the two visits showed a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease.

In the second study, researchers placed over 31,000 patients into three categories based on their levels of vitamin D. The patients in each category who increased their vitamin D levels to 43 nanograms per milliliter of blood or higher had lower rates of death, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, heart failure, high blood pressure, depression, and kidney failure. Currently, a level of 30 nanograms per milliliter is considered "normal."

Heidi May, PhD, a cardiovascular clinical epidemiologist with the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, and one of the study's authors, says the link between low levels of vitamin D and increased risk for a variety of diseases is significant.

"It was very important to discover that the 'normal' levels are too low. Giving physicians a higher level to look for gives them one more tool in identifying patients at-risk and offering them better treatment," says Dr. May.Dr. Muhlestein says the results of these studies will change the way he treats his patients.

"Although randomized trials would be useful and are coming, I feel there is enough information here for me to start treatment based on these findings," he says.

Treatment options in this case are simple, starting with a blood test to determine a patient's vitamin D level. If low levels are detected, supplements and/or increased exposure to sunlight may be prescribed.

Increasing vitamin D intake by 1000 to 5000 international units (IU) a day may be appropriate, depending on a patient's health and genetic risk, says Dr. Muhlestein. He says supplements are the best source of vitamin D because they are relatively inexpensive and can be found at almost any supermarket or drug store. Most supplements provide an average of 400 IU per tablet.While exposure to 20-30 minutes of sunlight can provide up to 10,000 IU.

Researchers reviewed the health records of more than 9,000 people who had been diagnosed with vitamin D insufficiency and who had also undergone vitamin D testing at a later date. They found that approximately 50 percent of all patients had achieved healthy vitamin D levels of at least 30 nanograms per milliliter by the second test. Rates of heart disease were significantly lower in this group than among patients who were still deficient in the vitamin.

"What we did was observational and not definitive, but we think it adds significantly to the story," said lead author J. Brent Muhlestein. "It's at least a reasonable piece of evidence to add to the hypothesis that low vitamin D is causative of cardiovascular risk and treatment can reduce cardiovascular disease risk."

Learn More About The Sunshine Vitamin

Vitamin D is important for good health and long-life. Here are some of the articles we've added to our website to give you a full picture of this important subject. Like other parts of this website its full of facts and useful advice.

If Vitamin D Were a Drug It Would Win the Nobel Prize

Vitamin D Deficiency: Causes and Risk Factors

Vitamin D Deficiency is linked to 2/3 rds of the medical problems in the US along with poor diet

Learn to recognize the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, especially in women and children

Testing Your Vitamin D Levels: (know what to ask your doctor, or order a home testing kit)

Benefits of Vitamin D

Vitamin D and anti-aging

Getting Vitamin D from Sunshine

Vitamin D from Food

What you need to know when choosing a Vitamin D supplement

Vitamin D helps prevent 3 out 4 cancers

Vitamin D and Calcium: You Need Them Both

Vitamin D is important for heathy teeth and preventing periodontal disease and weakening of the jawbone

Vitamin D deficiency can cause mobility problems


The information contained in this section of our web site is for educational purposes and is not intended as medical advice.

While the publishers of this website believe that people have the right to understand their own bodies and to take care of their bodies as they see fit, we also respect the knowledge and experience of trained nutritionists, scientists, researchers, medical practioners, and others who can help you achieve the optimum health you are entitled to, and suggest you seek out and work with health specialists you can trust.

Navigation Tip

Click on the highlighted word to return the top of this section on Vitamin D and Heart health or to return to the first introductory article about Vitamin D.