While vitamin D has long been known for its bone strengthening abilities, it’s also been studied for its contribution to cardiovascular wellness. However, there are opposing views when it comes to the role vitamin D plays in heart health. While it has been found to be beneficial for certain conditions, such as heart failure, it may not be as effective for others, like strokes. Here, we’ll look at both sides, and share our thoughts and recommendations.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D, often referred to as the “sunshine” vitamin, is a fat-soluble nutrient most well-known for it’s ability to help your body absorb calcium. This action helps to build strong teeth and bones and maintains bone health at large. Vitamin D also aids in overall immune system functioning, and a deficiency in it could possibly lead to poor cardiovascular conditions and risk factors.
Vitamin D comes in two main forms, D-2 and D-3. And you can get it in three different forms: vitamin D rich foods, supplements, and sunlight. Of course, like any vitamin or mineral, there are multiple factors that play a part in just how much you need, such as age.
Vitamin D May Improve Cardiac Function for Those with Heart Failure
Studies have shown that there’s a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and chronic heart failure.1According to the American College of Cardiology, those with heart failure who are deficient in vitamin D are at greater risk of dying from that condition.2 And those with extremely low levels of vitamin D are more susceptible to other chronic conditions.
Another study, found in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, reported that those with chronic heart failure who received vitamin D supplements for 12 months showed improved cardiovascular function compared with those who took the placebo.3 In all, the authors of the study point to the possibility of vitamin D supplements as an aid for improving cardiac function in those with heart failure.
Vitamin D May Not Reduce Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke
When these studies came out, it initially became widely believed that vitamin D must be good for heart conditions at large. However, further studies have disputed that theory, showing little evidence that vitamin D helps to reduce risk of heart attack or strokes.4 Based on these studies, it remains unclear whether vitamin D deficiency actually contributes to cardiovascular disease, or if it’s simply indicative of poor health.5
Getting Adequate Amounts of Vitamin D is Still Important
While more research still needs to be done regarding the effect Vitamin D has on overall heart health, it is clear that it has the potential to help with heart failure. It’s also apparent that for overall health and strong bones, vitamin D is still an important vitamin that’s required for your body to function optimally.
Because of this, and because a deficiency in vitamin D, or any vitamin for that matter, has the potential to cause harm, we suggest ensuring that you’re getting the adequate recommended amount. To know exactly what that amount is for you and your body, you should speak with your doctor. A simple blood test can show you exactly where your vitamin D levels are. And depending on your doctor’s recommendations, you can explore getting vitamin D through any of it’s three forms shared below:
Vitamin D Through Sun Exposure
When your skin is exposed to sunlight, specifically to the sun’s ultraviolet B (UV-B) radiation, vitamin D is created. While the general rule of thumb is to get about 15-20 minutes of sun exposure at least three days per week, (without sunscreen) there are several factors that can affect this amount. Some factors that should be taken into consideration include:
- Season- You won’t get the same amount of vitamin D in the fall or winter as you would in the spring or summer
- Time of Day- The sun offers the highest levels of ultraviolet light between 10am and 3pm
- Location- The closer you are to the equator, the stronger the sun will be. And vice versa
- Age- As the body ages, it also assimilates vitamins and nutrients differently. Most often, as we get older, we require more vitamin D
- Melanin Content- Those who have fairer skin need less vitamin D than those with darker complexions
Vitamin D Through Supplements
If you’re unable to get the amount of vitamin D your body needs through sun exposure, vitamin D supplements are often the next best route. However, there are concerns regarding whether too much long-term vitamin D supplementation could be detrimental. Until more research is done, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the proper amount. Of course, the amount each person needs will vary based on age, weight, etc. As always, speaking with your doctor is the best way to ensure you take just the right amount.
When you do go shopping for vitamin D supplements, be aware that there are two types: Vitamin D-2, which comes from plants such as mushrooms that have been exposed to direct sunlight, and D-3, which comes from animal-based products. While further studies still need to be conducted regarding the difference between the two, it’s generally recognized that D-3, though more expensive, is the more powerful alternative.
Vitamin D Through Diet
Most foods that contain vitamin D naturally come from animal products. However, several foods are regularly enriched with vitamin D, such as orange juice, and certain milks and cereals, which can help to ensure everyone has the option of intaking some vitamin D dietarily.
Vitamin D containing foods include:
- Oily fish (i.e., tuna, sardines, salmon)
- Cod liver oil
- Egg yolk
- Beef liver
- Mushrooms exposed to direct sunlight
- Fortified orange juice
- Fortified dairy and plant-based milks
Depending on how frequently you eat the foods listed, a combination of diet, and supplements or sun exposure is likely ideal.