Vitamin D is important for cardio health
Available freely from the sun, vitamin D is essential to the proper functioning of our bodies, especially the bones. Now, researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) have discovered that this essential nutrient is also important for cardio health, having identified genetic evidence for the role of vitamin D deficiency in cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is the leading cause of death worldwide.
Researchers from the UniSA’s Australian Centre for Precision Health, based at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), found that people with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to suffer from heart disease and higher blood pressure than those with normal levels of vitamin D. For participants with the lowest concentrations, the risk of heart disease was more than double that seen for those with sufficient concentrations.
The large-scale Mendelian study, published in the European Heart Journal, used a new genetic approach that allowed the team to assess CVD risk based on how high the participants’ actual vitamin D levels were. The study used information from up to 267,980 individuals, which allowed the team to provide robust statistical evidence for the link between vitamin D deficiency and CVD.
“It is not ethical to recruit people with vitamin D deficiency to a randomised controlled trial and to leave them without treatment for long periods,” said UniSA’s Professor Elina Hyppönen, chief investigator on the study.
“It is exactly this type of difficult setting which demonstrates the power of our genetic approach, given we can show how improving concentrations affects the risk in those most in need, without exposing participants to any harm.
“Those with the lowest concentrations are likely to have the strongest effects, yet a population-wide approach to eradicate vitamin D deficiency could reduce the global burden of CVDs.”
Prof Hyppönen said appreciating the role of vitamin D deficiency for heart health could help reduce the global burden of cardiovascular disease. “In our study population,” she said, “by increasing vitamin D-deficient individuals to levels of at least 50 nmol/L, we estimate that 4.4% of all CVD cases could have been prevented.
“Severe deficiency is relatively rare, but in settings where this does occur it is very important to be proactive and avoid negative effects on the heart. For example, deficiency can be a problem for people living in residential care who may have limited exposure to sun.
“We can also get vitamin D from food, including oily fish, eggs, and fortified foods and drinks. This said, food is unfortunately a relatively poor source of vitamin D, and even an otherwise healthy diet does not typically contain enough.
“If we don’t get any vitamin D through the sun, this is one of the rare nutrients for which we sometimes need to take a daily supplement to keep up with the requirements.”
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