Vitamin D and Your Heart

February 21, 2008 9:35:09 PM PST
Lack of the so-called Sunshine Vitamin may not just affect your bones, it could be hazardous to the heart. It's estimated that one third to one half of otherwise healthy adults are low in Vitamin D. Couple that with this winter's lack of sunshine, and levels for Midwesterners could be dipping even lower. Not only does Vitamin D help keeps bones healthy, but folks with too little of this vitamin could be facing up to twice the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Vitamin D seems to be the new buzzword of the millennium. It's causing controversy and creating confusion because most of us get our Vitamin D from the sun. Scientists have said too much sun exposure is bad for you, but now we're being told maybe we've gone too far -- and, possibly, are not getting enough.

A new wave of research is showing Vitamin D may reduce risk from several major illnesses, including cancer, diabetes and now heart disease.

"I was dumbfounded cause this was not in our radar that we should be checking this," said Dr. Annabelle Volgman, cardiologist, Rush Univ. Med. Ctr.

Rush cardiologist Annabelle Volgman started to check her female patients for Vitamin D deficiency. She was shocked to learn the majority were lacking. Baumgart, 31, who works at Rush, is one of them.

"She tested my blood and I was severely Vitamin D deficient," said Baumgart.

Doctors don't know if that played a role, but Angela's heart was skipping beats. She says a pacemaker made a big difference in her health. She later added a Vitamin D rich diet --along with supplements.

"My activity has gone up I do feel better," said Baumgart.

Josie Lempa, who was also measuring on the low side, is also taking prescription Vitamin D.

"I haven't taken anything other than the D, and it really has made a difference."

A recent study in the journal "Circulation" may be the strongest evidence yet linking Vitamin D to cardiovascular disease. It found that events such as heart attacks, strokes and heart failure were anywhere from 53 to 80 percent higher in people with low levels of vitamin d in their blood. That risk increased even more in people with high blood pressure.

"This article in Circulation just made it a great mark in my suspicion that we should be checking Vitamin D deficiency in all of our cardiac patients," said Baumgart. "I have been telling a lot of physicians about this and I'm not sure they have accepted it yet."

Vitamin D is best known as one of the most important regulators of calcium absorption in the body. It can be found in dairy products, fatty fish such as salmon and eggs.

So why would it help the heart? Researchers speculate that more of this vitamin could lead to less inflammation in the arteries. It has also been linked to reduced blood pressure. But, don't be too quick to rush out and stock up on Vitamin D supplements.

"We don't yet know if taking them really makes a difference in term of heart disease," said Dr. Rupa Mehta, cardiologist, Univ. Of Chicago Med. Ctr.

There's the catch. University of Chicago Cardiologist Rupa Meta says we still know so little about the relationship between Vitamin D and the heart. Does lack of the vitamin cause the problems or does cardiovascular disease essentially lead to Vitamin D deficiency? Also, other vitamins in the past such as "C" and "E" have shown promise in preventing heart problems- only to eventually fizzle out.

" I would not recommend routine testing as of yet because we don't have enough data," said Dr. Mehta.

What most doctors agree on is that an over the counter multi vitamin that contains vitamin d is a good idea for the average person. And if you have questions ask your doctor what they recommend.