People who are deficient in vitamin D have been found to face increased heart disease risks — a finding that suggests the sunshine vitamin may boost cardiovascular health and cut the odds of developing coronary artery disease.
The findings, presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology this week, add to a growing body of research shows that vitamin D may be beneficial in preventing heart disease. Several recent studies have also shown low levels of vitamin D are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, but the researchers noted it is still not clear whether supplements can reduce that risk.
In the largest study of its kind to evaluate the relationship between vitamin D levels and coronary artery disease, Italian researchers found vitamin D deficiencies in more than 70 percent of patients undergoing coronary angiography — an imaging test that tracks how blood flows through the arteries in the heart.
Vitamin D deficiency was associated with a 32 percent higher rate higher of coronary artery disease in patients with the lowest levels and a 20 percent increased risk of severe heart disease. Patients with very low vitamin levels were nearly twice as likely to suffer coronary atherosclerosis as those with normal levels.
"Present results suggest vitamin D deficiency to be the cause rather than the consequence of atherosclerosis," said Monica Verdoia, M.D., a cardiologist at the Department of Cardiology, Ospedale Maggiore della Carità, Eastern Piedmont University in Novara, Italy. "Although evidence of benefits with vitamin D supplementation in cardiovascular outcomes are still lacking, strategies to raise endogenous vitamin D should probably be advised in the prevention of cardiovascular disease."
The findings suggest doctors should recommend that heart patients, and those at risk of developing cardiovascular programs, follow a diet rich in vitamin D and be sure to get moderate, Dr. Verdoia said. Vitamin D acts as a regulator on the function of the immune system as well as inflammatory processes that contribute to risk factors for heart disease, she said.
Past studies have estimated more than half of U.S. adults are vitamin D deficient, with the highest rates among African-Americans and Hispanics. Research is currently underway involving the potential connections between vitamin D and diabetes, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune conditions, bone disorders, and some types of cancer.
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