Low levels of vitamin D may result in a markedly higher risk of heart attack and early death, according to new research from the University of Copenhagen and Copenhagen University Hospital.
The study, published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, involved more than 10,000 Danes tracked since 1981 and suggests increasing levels of the “sunshine vitamin” may boost heart health in people with deficiencies.
"We have now examined the association between a low level of vitamin D and ischemic heart disease and death in the largest study to date,” said researcher Dr. Peter Brøndum-Jacobsen. “We observed that low levels of vitamin D compared to optimal levels are linked to 40 percent higher risk of ischemic heart disease, 64 percent higher risk of heart attack, 57 percent higher risk of early death, and to no less than 81 percent higher risk of death from heart disease."
Vitamin D deficiency has long been tied to poor bone health and high blood pressure. But the new study shows it also significantly increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, coronary arteriosclerosis and angina. The results showed people with the lowest levels of vitamin D in their blood faced far greater risks than those with the highest levels.
"With this type of population study, we are unable to say anything definitive about a possible causal relationship. But we can ascertain that there is a strong statistical correlation between a low level of vitamin D and high risk of heart disease and early death," said co-researcher Børge Nordestgaard. “The explanation may be that a low level of vitamin D directly leads to heart disease and death. However, it is also possible that vitamin deficiency is a marker for poor health generally.”
Heart disease is the most common cause of adult death in the world, according to the World Health Organization, which estimates that at least 17 million people die every year from heart disease.
"The cheapest and easiest way to get enough vitamin D is to let the sun shine on your skin at regular intervals,” said Nordestgaard. “Diet with a good supply of vitamin D is also good, but it has not been proven that vitamin D as a dietary supplement prevents heart disease and death."