Vitamin D plays many important roles in the body—from strengthening your bones to boosting your immune system to help keep you healthy. Research also shows it keeps your heart and blood vessels in good working condition. Here are a few of the ways the so-called “sunshine vitamin” keeps the heart strong and healthy:
A new report from Italy looked at the effects of many types of foods, vitamins and minerals, and eating patterns on a person’s risk for stroke. The research shows that people with low levels of vitamin D in their bodies have a higher risk for stroke. Vitamin D may help by improving the lining of blood vessel walls to allow blood to flow freely and by reducing the harmful effects of inflammation, along with several other effects.
Healthier blood vessels
A study from Ohio University also explored the connection between vitamin D and high blood pressure by studying blood vessel walls, and researchers did it in an interesting way. They used tiny sensors about 1,000 times smaller than a human hair to look at blood vessel cells while injecting them with a form of vitamin D, called vitamin D3. The study showed that vitamin D3 can repair damage to the heart and blood vessels caused by high blood pressure.
People with type 2 diabetes have a very high risk for heart attack and stroke. Unfortunately low levels of vitamin D raise the risk for pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, recent research shows. Scientists from the University of California at San Diego followed a group of healthy older people, with no signs of diabetes at the beginning of the study, for 12 years. Afterwards, they looked at the people who had developed diabetes to see what they had in common. A lack of vitamin D in the body turned out to be a strong predictor of who would get diabetes. Those with the lowest blood levels of vitamin D were at the highest risk.
A Brazilian study found something similar when researchers examined blood levels of vitamin D in women after menopause. Women who had vitamin D levels that were too low were more likely to develop metabolic syndrome. A person has metabolic syndrome when they have 3 of 5 “almost” risk factors for heart disease. For example, blood pressure is “almost high,” blood sugar is “almost high,” the measure of inches around the waist is “almost high,” HDL cholesterol is “almost low,” and/or triglycerides, another harmful blood fat, are “almost high.” If you have any combination of 3 of these “almost” risk factors, it means you have metabolic syndrome and you’re at a much higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
High blood pressure
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to high blood pressure. And some research shows that taking a vitamin D pill can help to lower it, which lowers the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
It’s getting clearer that having enough vitamin D in your body can help your heart. How do you know if you’re getting enough? Only a blood test can tell. If you think you are at risk or have risk factors, ask your doctor if a test is needed. Cleveland HeartLab/Quest Diagnostics offers several accurate tests for vitamin D.
Sunshine is the biggest source of vitamin D for Americans, as your body makes vitamin D in response to sunlight. But many people, particularly African Americans and others with darker skin colors, cannot get enough of the vitamin through exposure to the sun.
Many foods offer a good supply of vitamin D. These include salmon, sardines, egg yolk, shrimp, and fortified milk and orange juice. Taking a supplement may be helpful, but that research is not solid yet.
Talk to your doctor about the best way to increase vitamin D in your body. Together you can make a plan that lets you reap all the heart benefits that vitamin D has to offer!