Does vitamin D deficiency contribute to heart disease?
As you know, I’ve never been a fan of supplements … with one exception: I take vitamin D, because tests have shown my levels of this essential nutrient are low. And now, a new study shows that doing so may have been helping my heart health: Australian researchers found that vitamin D deficiency may increase blood pressure.
The researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank and found that people who had the lowest levels of vitamin D had an 11% higher risk of heart disease compared to those with higher levels. Those with the lowest vitamin D levels also had higher blood pressure.
Vitamin D is usually associated with bone health: Without enough of it, we don’t absorb calcium in a way that keeps bones strong. And, unfortunately, many Americans don’t have enough of it. Almost 6 percent of the U.S. population has severe vitamin D deficiency, and 24 percent have an insufficient amount.
For once, we can’t blame the American diet: Vitamin D comes primarily from exposure to the sun, not diet. The recommended daily amount is 600 international units (IU) for people ages 1 to 70 years, and 800 IU for people over 70 years, according to the Mayo Clinic. To get that from food, you’d need to eat a lot of pink salmon and sardines (three ounces of salmon provides 370 IU of vitamin D and three ounces of sardines provides 160 IU). But getting 10-30 minutes of midday sun exposure several times per week (without sun block) should be sufficient.
Vitamin D levels are checked with a blood test. If your levels fall within the normal range, there does not appear to be much benefit of trying to get more of this vitamin. More is not necessarily better, according to the researchers -- and may even be harmful if coming from supplements.
If your levels are low, make sure to spend enough time outdoors in the sun. But if you’re like me and have low vitamin D levels but prefer to use sunscreen for skin cancer protection, using vitamin D supplements makes sense. Just make sure to cut back on the supplement dose once your vitamin D stores have been repleted.
Finally, a lack of adequate vitamin D may also contribute to depression, so, for a multitude of reasons, getting out in the sun is key to living a joyful life.
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