The World's Healthiest Foods

The role of vitamin D in heart disease

Over the past five years, vitamin D has emerged as one of the key nutrient deficiencies contributing to risk of many chronic diseases, including colon cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and osteoporosis. To this impressive list can now be added heart disease-including atherosclerosis.

Researchers have yet to determine the exact mechanisms connecting vitamin D with reduced risk of heart disease. Studies have already shown that vitamin D can lower inflammation by increasing levels of anti-inflammatory messengers like the cytokine named IL-10 (interleukin-10). Research has also shown that vitamin D can lower blood pressure, probably by inhibiting a regulatory system called the renin-angiotensin system. An analysis of vitamin D metabolism in 2006 has further suggested that vitamin D may be directly involved in cholesterol reduction. This analysis looked at the pharmacologic activity of certain cholesterol-lowering drugs called statin drugs. (The statin drugs, including lovastatin, pravastatin, and simvastain are some of the most widely-used prescription medicines for lowering cholesterol). It may turn out that these statin drugs act in the body by binding onto vitamin D receptors on cell membranes and mimicking the activity of vitamin D.

Risk of atherosclerosis increases with age, and so does the need for vitamin D. Some studies suggest that it may be difficult to prevent the chronic diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency unless the Adequate Intake (AI) levels set by the National Academy of Sciences in 1997 be treated as minimum standards for vitamin D intake. Those levels are 5 micrograms of vitamin D daily for adults under 50 years of age, 10 micrograms for adults 51-70, and 15 micrograms for everyone above the age of 70.

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