New Studies Show How Vitamin D May Protect Your Heart

We've long known that vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and is a key player in keeping our bones and teeth healthy and strong. Now, two new studies are adding to a growing body of evidence showing that vitamin D could have a crucial role in protecting our hearts as well. 

Results from a study by researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health show that low blood levels of vitamin D in younger women tripled their risk of having high blood pressure years later. The researchers analyzed data from a Michigan Bone Health and Metabolism Study that followed 559 women ages 24 to 44 over 15 years. Vitamin D levels of the participants were measured at the beginning of the study and recorded every year after that along with their blood pressure readings. By the end of the study in 2007, when the average age of the women was 53, about one in four had developed high blood pressure.

"This is preliminary data, so we can't say with certainty that low vitamin D levels are directly linked to high blood pressure. But this may be another example of how what you do early in life impacts your health years later," said lead investigator Flojaune Griffin, MPH, at the meeting of the American Heart Association in Chicago, where the data was presented.

In another study, researchers from the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah looked at the vitamin D levels of 27,686 patients and found that a majority were deficient in the vitamin; about two-thirds had less vitamin D in their bloodstreams than the researchers considered healthy; and many others were found to be extremely deficient. The result was that those with the lowest vitamin D levels were 77 percent more likely to die during the follow-up; 78 percent were more likely to have a stroke; and 45 percent were more likely to develop coronary artery disease than those with normal levels of vitamin D. (Over 30 nanograms of vitamin D per milliliter of blood is considered normal; less than 15 nanograms per milliliter of blood is very low).

Getting Enough Vitamin D

If you're concerned about whether you're getting enough vitamin D, ask your doctor to include a blood test that measures vitamin D levels at your next physical. If you think you might not be getting enough of vitamin D through foods, such as fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified milk and orange juice, or sunlight, try supplements. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that adults under 50 take between 400 and 800 IUs of vitamin D daily and those over 50 take between 800 and 1,000 IUs a day.