People with higher blood levels of vitamin D tend to have a lower risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), with a predictable relationship between the two seen in a new study published in the European Heart Journal.
Researchers have long known that vitamin D is linked to a range of health outcomes. This vitamin — which is produced by the body in response to sun exposure on the skin, but isn’t widely available from food sources — is lacking in large segments of the population, especially since many areas of the world — including in the United States — don’t get enough sunlight in winter for most people to adequately produce vitamin D. That means many people need to take a vitamin D supplement to have adequate levels of the vitamin in their blood. Taking vitamin D has been linked to lower A1C (a measure of long-term blood glucose control) in people with type 2 diabetes, as well as a lower risk for early-onset colorectal cancer. In people with diabetes who are overweight, vitamin D deficiency is linked to more severe COVID-19 in people who develop the viral infection. And taking vitamin D in combination with fish oil has been linked to a lower risk for autoimmune diseases in older adults.
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Cardiovascular benefits from recommended vitamin D levels
For the latest study, researchers looked at blood levels of vitamin D in 44,519 people with cardiovascular disease and 251,269 people without cardiovascular disease who took part in a general health research study called the UK Biobank. Overall, the researchers found an L-shaped relationship between vitamin D levels and cardiovascular risk — meaning that the risk for cardiovascular disease dropped sharply with increasing levels of vitamin D at lower levels, but didn’t drop much after that with increasing levels of vitamin D. In fact, the risk for cardiovascular disease seemed to level off at around 20 ng/ml of vitamin D, at the low end of recommended vitamin D levels. A similar relationship was seen between vitamin D levels and blood pressure — both systolic (the “top number” measured during heartbeats) and diastolic (the “bottom number” measured between heartbeats). When vitamin D levels were corrected in people who initially had a level below 20 ng/ml, the researchers found that this increase would predict a 4.4% reduction in cardiovascular disease.
These results show that the cardiovascular benefits from getting enough vitamin D appear to line up with vitamin D levels that have long been recommended for bone health, according to an article on the study at Healio. Vitamin D is important in the body’s regulation of calcium, which is essential to maintaining strong bones.
“Understanding the connection between low levels of vitamin D and CVD is especially important, given the global prevalence of this deadly condition,” said study author Elina Hyppönen, director of the Australian Centre for Precision Health at the University of South Australia Cancer Research Institute, in a press release. “Our results are exciting as they suggest that if we can raise levels of vitamin D within norms, we should also affect rates of CVD. A population-wide approach to eradicate vitamin D deficiency could reduce the global burden of CVD.”
Want to learn more about vitamin D? Read “Vitamin D: Making Sure You Get Enough.”