February is American Heart Month – a time when we focus our attention on combating the leading cause of death in the United States, heart disease. According to the CDC 770,000 Americans will have a new heart attack in 2008, and 430,000 will experience a recurrent attack.1 Over 64 million Americans suffer from one or more forms of cardiovascular disease such as elevated blood pressure, coronary disease, heart failure, and stroke.
We all know the obvious cardiovascular hazards that are, to a certain extent, under our control – obesity, lack of exercise, and poor dietary choices. What about those risk factors we just can’t seem to get a handle on, such as high blood pressure or diabetes? A recent study sheds light on the issue of resistant risk factors and exposes a potential pathway of attack. What is even more encouraging is that, in this era of spiraling health care costs, the study illuminates an opportunity to address a previously underestimated health risk, cheaply and easily.
According to an article in the journal, Circulation, moderate to severe vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease.2 The authors were careful not to say that vitamin D, obtained either through sunlight or supplements, will reverse heart disease. All they can say, based upon their research, is that deficiency of the vitamin is a problem. Their conclusions build upon and affirm previous research that associates vitamin D deficiency with variety of cardiovascular risks - high blood pressure, adult onset diabetes, congestive heart failure, calcification in the coronary arteries, and elevated blood levels of inflammatory substances.
The study reveals that higher rates of “cardiovascular events” such as heart attack, stroke, angina, pain on walking, or heart failure, were evident only in those subjects who had high blood pressure, along with vitamin D deficiency. The link with high blood pressure points to the possible mechanism by which vitamin D deficiency predisposes to heart disease. Scientists are learning that vitamin D is not just for bones. The nutrient is important for every cell in the body. Vitamin D acts on the kidneys where it suppresses production of a powerful vasoconstrictor, called renin. High levels of renin are a cause of high blood pressure. Additionally, vitamin D binds to blood vessel cells where it appears to regulate calcium deposition, smooth muscle growth, clotting and inflammation.
All of the subjects in the study were Caucasian, a drawback. However, the results may be even more important for African Americans and people of dark skin color, especially those living in northern latitudes, because they have a higher prevalence of vitamin D deficiency.
A Common Problem
Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem, especially in northern latitudes. According to Dr. Michael Hollick, MD, “… it has been estimated that 1 billion people worldwide have vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. 3 People of color, who live in northern climates, are particularly at risk because they require more time in the northern sun to make adequate vitamin D compared to a Caucasian person. We also see significant vitamin D deficiency in the elderly, especially shut-ins or those in nursing homes.
What can one do?
The authors of the Circulation study state that more research is necessary to determine whether correction of vitamin D deficiency could prevent cardiovascular disease. However, they state that there are potentially broad public health implications, given the high prevalence of deficiency and the ease and safety of treating it.
Sunlight is free, and does not require a prescription. Dr. Hollick, in an article on vitamin D published in the New England Journal of Medicine writes: “Sensible sun exposure can provide an adequate amount of vitamin D3, which is stored in body fat and released during the winter, when vitamin D3 cannot be produced. Exposure of arms and legs for 5 to 30 minutes (depending on time of day, season, latitude and skin pigmentation) between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM twice a week is often adequate.” 3
It is important to become familiar with your skin’s response to the sun. Never burn. The time it takes to produce a minimal redness on your skin is defined a minimal erythemal dose or MED. Exposure for about 25% of your MED three times a week may be all you need to obtain adequate vitamin D during the summer months.
Some experts think that diet alone, even a well-balanced one, does not provide adequate vitamin D and that recommended allowances are set too low. If you can’t or won’t go in the sun ask your doctor if supplementation with vitamin D3 is indicated for you.
1) CDC website – www.cdc.gov February is American Heart Month
2) Wang TJ, Pencina MJ Booth SL, et al. Vitamin D deficiency and risk of cardiovascular disease. Circulation, Jan. 7 2008
3) Hollick, M F. Vitamin D Deficiency. NEJM 357,3 July 19, 2007.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. They are not intended to diagnose, cure, prevent or treat any disease. They are for information purposes only and not intended to substitute for advise from your physician.
Debbie Edson is a registered pharmacist, with a background in hospital and community practice. She is proprietor of Healthy Morning, LLC. Her passion is educating people about evidence based natural healing. She is a recent contributor to the best selling book, Prescription For Nutritional Healing, 4th Ed. Debbie lives in Massachusetts with her husband, David. She has one child, Laura Novak, who is a photographer in Wilmington, Delaware.