Sunshine vitamin affects cardiac outcomes

Vitamin D deficiency could increase the risk for ischemic heart disease, myocardial infarction (MI), and early death, researchers suggest.

A population-based study of 10,170 women and men from the Copenhagen City Heart Study cohort revealed that individuals who had a plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D level of 7.5-12 nmol/L (1st to 4th percentile) had a 40% higher risk for ischemic heart disease than those with a level of 47-71 nmol/L (50th to 100th percentile).

Individuals with low plasma vitamin D levels also had a 64% higher risk for heart attack than those with higher vitamin D levels, a 57% higher risk for early death, and an 81% higher risk for fatal ischemic heart disease or nonfatal MI.

"The cheapest and easiest way to get enough vitamin D is to let the sun shine on your skin at regular intervals," advised lead author Børge Nordestgaard (University of Copenhagen, Denmark) in a press statement.

"There is plenty of evidence that sunshine is good, but it is also important to avoid getting sunburned, which increases the risk of skin cancer. [A] diet with a good supply of vitamin D is also good, but it has not been proven that vitamin D as a dietary supplement prevents heart disease and death."

As reported in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, one of the meta-analyses conducted as part of the current study included 18 general population studies with a total of 82,982 participants and 8376 ischemic heart disease events. It revealed that individuals in the lowest quartile for plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels had a 39% increased risk for ischemic heart disease compared with those in the highest quartile.

The second meta-analysis, including 17 general population studies with a total of 77,155 participants and 15,447 deaths, showed that the corresponding risk for early death was increased by 46% among individuals in the lowest versus the highest quartile for plasma vitamin D levels.

"With this type of population study, we are unable to say anything definitive about a possible causal relationship," remarked Nordestgaard. "But we can ascertain that there is a strong statistical correlation between a low level of vitamin D and high risk of heart disease and early death.

"The explanation may be that a low level of vitamin D directly leads to heart disease and death. However, it is also possible that vitamin deficiency is a marker for poor health generally."

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