Vitamin D Health Heart Disease

Most people know that vitamin D, or the “sunshine vitamin,” plays a critical role in developing strong bones. But fewer realize that vitamin D might also have an impact on your cardiovascular health.

But what is vitamin D, and what role might it play in cardiovascular health? Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps your body absorb calcium. It also plays a role in regulating your immune system and cell growth.

The Connection Between Vitamin D and Heart Health

Data from the Framingham Heart Study shows that people with low levels of vitamin D had a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke

In the study, people with blood levels below 15 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) were twice as likely to experience a heart attack, heart failure or a stroke as those with normal vitamin D levels. Individuals who had both a vitamin D deficiency and high blood pressure seemed to be particularly at risk. However, the study did not prove that low vitamin D causes heart disease. Researchers are now considering studies that would look at the impact of vitamin D supplementation on heart disease risk in a random sample of patients.

Another recent study found that people with heart disease and low vitamin D levels were more likely to be depressed than heart disease patients who had adequate levels of the vitamin. However, the exact relationship between depression, vitamin D and heart disease remains unclear.

Do You Need More Vitamin D?

Spending between 15 and 30 minutes outside each day in direct sunlight a few days a week may be enough to get the vitamin D you need. But over one-third of adults in the United States may not be getting adequate vitamin D, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. If you have dark skin, get little exposure to the sun, are elderly or are obese, you may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Given the known health benefits of vitamin D, most doctors recommend that people pay attention to their vitamin D intake. While spending a few minutes in the sun is the easiest and most efficient way to get vitamin D, the nutrient is also found in some foods (such as tuna, salmon and egg yolks), as well as supplements. If you’re concerned about your vitamin D levels, talk to your doctor. She can recommend specific steps you can take to address a possible vitamin deficiency.

Resources

American Heart Association. (2008). Lack of vitamin D may increase heart disease risk. Retrieved December 16, 2009 from the American Heart Association website: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3052800.

HealthDay. (2009). Low vitamin D levels linked to heart disease. Retrieved December 17, 2009 from the US News