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Diet & Health : Heart & Blood Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Vitamin D deficiency linked to elevated heart risk
By David Liu Ph.D.
Dec 2, 2008 - 10:47:06 AM

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Tuesday Dec 2 2008 ( -- Vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and patients with heart risk should get screened and treated for the condition, a review article published in the December, 9, 2008 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) suggests.


Vitamin D is traditionally known for its role in maintaining bone health, but researchers now say that a growing body of evidence has already linked low 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels to common CVD risk factors such as hypertension, obesity and diabetes and cardiovascular events such as stroke and congestive heart failure.


"Vitamin D deficiency is an unrecognized, emerging cardiovascular risk factor, which should be screened for and treated," said James H. O'Keefe, M.D., cardiologist and director of Preventive Cardiology at the Mid America Heart Institute, Kansas City, MO.  "Vitamin D is easy to assess, and supplementation is simple, safe and inexpensive."


The authors of the review said low levels of vitamin D activate the renin-angiostensin-aldosterone system and predispose people to hypertension and a stiffening and thickening of the heart and blood vessels. Vitamin D deficiency also affects hormone levels and immune function and increase risk of diabetes.


American College of Cardiology (ACC) states in a press release published on Dec 1 that recent data from the Framingham Heart Study showed people with less than 15 ng of vitamin D per mL were twice as likely to have a heart attack, stroke or other CV event within the next five years compared to those with higher levels. The association held true even after other risks were considered.


"Restoring vitamin D levels to normal is important in maintaining good musculoskeletal health, and it may also improve heart health and prognosis," said Dr. O'Keefe.


The ACC says that up to half of U.S. adult men and women and 30 percent of children and teenagers suffer vitamin D deficiency, which is defined as a 25(OH)D level of <20ng/ml.


For most people, vitamin D deficiency results from lack of exposure to sunlight or insufficient intake of vitamin D rich foods including salmon, sardines, cod liver oil, and vitamin D-fortified foods including milk and some cereals.


The risk factors for vitamin D deficiency include older age, darkly pigmented skin, increased distance from the equator, winter season, smoking, obesity, renal or liver disease and certain medications, according to the ACC.


In response to the report, Dr. John Cannell, a vitamin D expert and president of  said in an email to that "vitamin D deficiency can easily be treated and the other risk factors for heart disease are often more difficult and always more expensive to treat."

When commenting on vitamin D screening, Dr. Cannell said "it appears that the most important blood test one can ever have is a 25-hydroxy-vitamin D or 25(OH)D.  Make sure your levels are above 50 ng/ml, year around."


One easy way to prevent vitamin D deficiency is to take supplements. This is particularly important for certain people such as those with dark skin and elderly people.   Vitamin D is safe to use and many experts recommend 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day for most people.  


The current Adequate Intake (AI) for Vitamin D Recommended by the Institute of Medicine is 200 IU/day for a person under 50, 400 IU/day for those ages 51 to 70 and 600 IU/day for those ages 71 and older.

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