Vitamin D: My Heart Healthy Obsession

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October 8, 2009

Vitamin D: My Heart Healthy Obsession

The newscasters can't stop talking about H1N1. I can't stop talking about vitamin D. Such is life. 

Well, at least my obsession is justifiable. According to one new study, men and women with low vitamin D levels significantly increase their risk of dying from heart disease. 

How much do they up their risk? You'll have to keep reading to find out. 

But I'll tell you this, it's not good. Especially when you think about how many of us don't get enough vitamin D. I've seen some studies suggesting as many as 94 percent of adults might be deficient. 

Disturbing statistics for retirees...

Scientists from the University of Colorado and Massachusetts General Hospital teamed up to look at the role vitamin D plays in promoting health and longevity in elderly adults. 

They collected blood samples from more than 3,400 men and women ages 65 and over. They recorded each of the patients' vitamin D levels. Then they let the patients go about their lives for seven years. 

In 2000, the scientists checked back in with their patients. Just under half of the men and women had died. And about half of those deaths were due to cardiovascular disease. 

Hitting the bull's eye...twice!

So how did vitamin D deficient patients fare? Not good, I'm afraid. 

Compared to patients with the most vitamin D, men and women with the lowest levels were three times more likely to die from heart disease. Plus, compared to their healthier counterparts, the deficient men and women were 2.5 times more likely to die from any cause over those seven years. 

Unfortunately, this study isn't the exception to the rule. It's the norm. In recent years, hundreds of studies have come across my desk showing the importance of vitamin D. 

In fact, back in August scientists found that low vitamin D doubles a diabetic's risk of suffering from heart disease. The study's lead investigator explained why vitamin D is especially important for your heart: 

"Vitamin D inhibits the uptake of cholesterol by cells called macrophages. When people are deficient in vitamin D, the macrophage cells eat more cholesterol, and they can't get rid of it. The macrophages get clogged with cholesterol and become what scientists call foam cells, which are one of the earliest markers of atherosclerosis." 

Getting to the heart of the issue...

Yes, vitamin D is critical to maintaining optimal heart health. And if you don't get enough, you may cut your life short. Dr. Adit Ginde from the University of Colorado explains why: 

"It's likely that more than one-third of older adults now have vitamin D levels associated with higher risks of death and few have levels associated with optimum survival. Given the aging population and the simplicity of increasing a person's level of vitamin D, a small improvement in death rates could have a substantial impact on public health." 

Translation? 

Very few of us get enough vitamin D. Even fewer adults get enough to support good health into their 80s, 90s, and 100s. (That's how long we can and should live.) But it's really, really easy to get more vitamin D. Just go out in the sun for 20 minutes! Or take a vitamin D supplement. 

Something so simple to fix!

Here's the bottom line: Most of us don't get enough vitamin D. 

How much do we really need? Well, that depends on who you ask. But don't assume that you're safe if you're simply getting your daily recommended allowance. Even our friends from the University of Colorado admit the RDA is too low to maintain optimal health. 

For anyone not getting out in the sun much, I recommend taking 2000 IUs of vitamin D daily. In winter months, go for 4000 IUs daily. Remember, sitting in the sun for 30 minutes gives you 10,000 IUs or more of vitamin D. So there's little risk of reaching an upper limit with this supplement. 

You can also get vitamin D into your diet by eating more eggs (naturally found in yolks), liver, and fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, herring and mackerel). Also, if you think you are vitamin D deficient, ask your doctor to test your blood serum levels. Ideally, you'll want levels between 50-70 ng/mL. 

In closing, when you think about retiring...definitely consider setting up shop in a sunny state! Your heart will thank you. 

Until next time, 

Allan Spreen, M.D.

Northstar Nutritional Guide to Good Health

 

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