Vitamin D and your Heart

The Sunshine Vitamin!

Vitamin D and your heartMost of us have heeded the warnings to avoid sun exposure–covering ourselves with protective clothing and sunblock.  And this time of year it’s not easy to get much Vitamin D from the sun anyway, unless you live in the more southern climes.  But our bodies need Vitamin D so what are we to do?

Vitamin D is essential to our health for many reasons, and it’s important to know that low levels of Vitamin D are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.  According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “a growing number of studies point to vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for heart attacks, congestive heart failure, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), strokes, and the conditions associated with cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes”.

It’s one of the things Bill’s cardiologist is monitoring closely.  Bill’s level was below the normal range of 30-100 ng/mL, so he was instructed to start taking 5,000 IUs daily.  His level was checked again for his followup visit and the results showed an increase to 35–in the low range of normal.  Still not satisfied, his doctor instructed him to increase his supplemental dosage to 7,000 IUs a day.

Vitamin D the Sunshine Vitamin
by jefras a.k.a Joăo Estęvăo A. de Freitas

Vitamin D has been written about a lot in recent years, especially associating low levels in our bodies to increased risk of cancer.  And among its many functions, Vitamin D helps to maintain levels of calcium and phosphorous so it’s good for your bones.   It also helps regulate blood pressure in the kidney, helps regulate blood sugar levels in the pancreas, and is associated with the prevention and treatment of diabetes, osteoarthritis and immune system disorders.  An interesting thing about Vitamin D–it’s unlike any other nutrient because our bodies can make it.  Plus, it acts more like a hormone than a vitamin, and regulates more than 200 genes throughout the body.

Synthesis_of_Vitamin_D
By OpenStax College [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The current recommendation for adults aged 50 to 70 years is 400 IU per day, and according to Cleveland Clinic, “an overwhelming number of physicians and researchers believe this level is too low to help achieve optimal health and reduce the risk of disease.”  Dr. Andrew Weil recommends 2,000 IUs daily for adults, and clevelandclinic.org states “many physicians are now recommending 1,000 IU to 2,000 IU daily for most adults.”

There are two forms of Vitamin D–ergocalciferol (D2) and cholecalciferol (D3).  Vitamin D2 is manufactured through the ultraviolet irradiation of a substance called ergosterol that comes from yeast, and is vegan. Vitamin D3  is made by the ultraviolet irradiation of a substance derived from sheep’s wool.  Research suggests D2 is much less well utilized by the body, so Vitamin D in the form of D3 is recommended, as it is closer to the naturally occurring form of the vitamin in humans.

Raw_eggIt is not easy to get enough Vitamin D from food.  Some foods are fortified with Vitamin D,  but it’s usually in the form of D2.  Good dietary sources are eggs, salmon, tuna, mackeral and sardines.  Of course, sunlight is the strongest natural source, enabling our bodies to make its own Vitamin D, but it’s a bit tricky as the amount you absorb depends on where you live, the time of year, how much skin is exposed, how much time you spend in the sun, and even the time of day.

Why are we so deficient?  It seems there are many reasons.  For one, many of us don’t spend time outside as much.  Plus, as we age, our ability to absorb Vitamin D from our diet and produce it from sun exposure decreases.  Additionally, obesity is an important factor because fat cells absorb vitamin D and keep it from circulating throughout the bloodstream.  Other factors include the use of sunscreen and darker skin pigmentation.

If you’d like to learn more about Vitamin D and stay up on the latest news, check out the Vitamin D Council’s web site.

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 “Vitamin D deficiency is an unrecognized, emerging cardiovascular risk factor, which should be screened for and treated. Vitamin D is easy to assess, and supplementation is simple, safe, and inexpensive.”

~ James H. O’Keefe, MD, cardiologist and director of Preventive Cardiology at the Mid America Heart Institute, Kansas City, MO

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“Those not getting sufficient sunshine to meet their vitamin D needs should take a supplement. Vitamin deficiency is epidemic in America, and it contributes not only to the development of osteoporosis but to increased cancer and heart disease as well.”

  ~ Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Cholesterol Protection for Life, New Expanded Edition

6 thoughts on “Vitamin D and your Heart

  1. Headed out to specifically get vitamin D3, to aid our vitamin d deficiency in Boston. Thanks for the great information, we can always count on you!!!

  2. Thank you for this information! I recently had a heart scan and obtained my Agatston calcium score and it is very high for a woman my age – extensive plaque burden. I’m the one who initiated the whole issue of heart health with my physician because my cholesterol tests were always coming up borderline high – since my 20s – and I was always instructed to just “watch my diet”. I have a perfect weight – great BMI, I have excellent triglycerides, HDL levels are wonderful, ratio is great, blood pressure is very good too. However, I have had low vitamin D levels, but never told to do anything about it, also 6 weeks of radiation for breast care which I’m told can contribute to plaque burden. I’ve moved many times throughout my adult life so I don’t hold any physician responsible for poor care, but I’m trying to be proactive with this whole, unsettling situation. Thanks much – I love your site.

    1. Pam I’m happy to hear you found the information helpful! It seems the best thing we can do for our health is be proactive about it and find a physician that will listen and work with us about our concerns. Wishing you good health!

  3. This is such a fascinating topic. I’m always apprehensive about where that line is between protecting oneself from sun damage/skin cancer, and getting enough vitamin D. I also found vitamin D to be very important to my emotional wellbeing.

    1. Dayna, the current wisdom on how much sun you need while protecting yourself is a bit tricky, since it depends on your skin type, time of day, the season and so on. Here’s a link that I hope will be helpful. http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/how-do-i-get-the-vitamin-d-my-body-needs/ And you make a great point about how Vitamin D affects your emotional health! Researchers are now discovering that Vitamin D may play a role in mental health and depression.

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