Understanding Vitamin D & Heart Disease Links

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Vitamins have long been regarded as essential for good health, but it’s only recently that research has begun to uncover the myriad of reasons for their importance.

Vitamin D has been in the spotlight recently following the publication of a review article which strongly suggests a role for this essential vitamin in the health of the heart and the cardiovascular system.

Contribution of Vitamin D to Heart Health

The review article, from Sue Penckofer, PhD, RN, at the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, Loyola University in Chicago, links vitamin D deficiency, heart disease, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome (a precursor to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes).

The article cites as evidence a number of studies which link vitamin D to heart disease, many of which indicated higher rates of serious disease and death among vitamin D-deficient individuals – in some cases up to 30% to 50% higher.

Getting enough Vitamin D isn’t about your Diet

Another important link in the chain is the fact that getting enough vitamin D isn’t necessarily something you can achieve with a healthy, well-balanced diet. Unlike all other vitamins, there are very few food sources of vitamin D. Instead, vitamin D is synthesized by skin cells exposed to sunlight.

In the light of the emphasis on sun safety in recent decades, it’s no surprise that increasing numbers of people are deficient in a vitamin which the human body can synthesis only following exposure to sunlight.

And in the winter months, when sunlight is at a lower availability, the deficit issue may become even more serious.

The review concludes that diet alone cannot supply adequate levels of vitamin D, and recommends treatment options to decrease the risk of serious disease or death resulting from the effects of deficiency on heart and cardiovascular health.

Another issue, say the authors, is that most doctors don’t routinely prescribe vitamin D tests, so people who are deficient may not know. Most experts do agree, however, that people at risk of heart disease, and people with depression, fatigue, and joint pain, should have vitamin D levels checked to find out if deficiency is an issue.


Wallis DE, Penckofer S, Sizemore GW. The “sunshine deficit” and cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2008 Sep 30;118 (14):1476-85.