Ask the Cardiologist: Vitamin D deficiency linked to risk of Heart Disease

Dr. Maciej Malinski is on the medical staff at Sherman Hospital. He has been kind enough to answer some frequently asked questions related to maintaining a healthy heart in his Ask the Cardiologist series. To see all posts Dr. Malinski has written, just type “Ask the Cardiologist” into the search bar on the right.

The major function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, which helps to form and maintain strong bones. Recent studies suggest vitamin D deficiency may be a contributor to the development of cardiovascular disease, potentially through associations with diabetes or hypertension. Recently, there were many publications suggesting that vitamin D supplementation may provide protection from cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Vitamin D is required in the diet only when the skin does not make enough through the action of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Recently, we have growing evidence of a link between low vitamin D and increased risk of CVD.

The explanation for this association remains unclear, but low vitamin D levels have been associated with the cardiovascular disease risk factors of hypertension, obesity, diabetes mellitus, and the metabolic syndrome. It is thought that perhaps through these risk factors vitamin D expresses its effect on CVD.

There is lots of enthusiasm about vitamin D deficiency as a CVD risk factor, mostly because it’d be easily treatable with cheap supplementation. On the other hand, many scientists are dismissing the link, saying that vitamin D is only a marker of general health. Healthier people tend to spend more time outside, resulting in more sun exposure, higher vitamin D levels, and also they have healthier diets.

All we know for now is that observational studies showed that people with low vitamin D levels have higher incidence of heart failure, heart attack, and stroke than people with higher levels of vitamin D.

So, we do not presently have much evidence that supports the idea of increasing vitamin D levels with supplementation to lower the risk of CVD. Generally, doctors do not recommend using vitamin D supplementation just to lower CVD risk, bearing in mind that supplementation may cause unintended harm as has happened with antioxidant interventions.

There are two upcoming trials to test if initiation of vitamin D supplementation can prevent CVD: one is the ViDA (Vitamin D Assessment) trial in New Zealand, and the other is the VITAL (Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial) in the United States.

Unfortunately, these trials will take several years to complete. Until then, we know that taking vitamin D as usual supplementation may help your heart, and raising low levels will help your bones, but exercise will help both, regardless of vitamin D levels.

Do you have a question for Dr. Malinski? To submit your question, post it in the comments section below, visit the Sherman Health Facebook page, or email luke@shermanhealth.com with the subject line “Question for Dr. Malinski.”

This post is published by Sherman Health to provide general health information. It is not intended to provide personal medical advice, which should be obtained directly from your physician.

About Sherman Health

Sherman Health has provided medical care to Northern IL since 1888, and is currently home to a network of over 600 physicians. The Sherman blogs are edited by me, Luke. Questions? Comments? Links? Email address is luke at shermanhealth dot com.
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