Sunlight is free, and if we learn to harness it correctly, it can address one of humankind’s greatest needs: energy. Similarly, sunlight helps the body make vitamin D, and if you are exposed to sufficient and safe amounts, this nutrient/hormone can help fight our top health problems: heart disease and diabetes.
Unfortunately, many people do not get enough exposure to sunlight, depriving their body of the opportunity to create enough vitamin D for optimal health. At the same time, there are few foods that are rich in vitamin D, and so these two factors contribute to widespread vitamin D deficiency and a need for vitamin D supplementation.
Vitamin D fights heart disease and diabetes
The findings of a recent study from University of Kansas researchers will hopefully be an impetus for additional scientists, clinicians, and other professionals to wake up to the powerful potential of vitamin D to lower the risk of the top health challenges in the United States and many other places in the world: heart disease (including heart failure, vascular disease, hypertension, and coronary artery disease), diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
The study also showed vitamin D supplementation was associated with a reduced risk of death during a period of nearly six years.
According to the authors of the study, which involved 10,899 men and women, two important factors regarding their research are:
- The greatest reductions in disease risk and risk of death were seen in people who were deficient in vitamin D, which was defined as a blood level of 30 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter); and
- Individuals need to take more vitamin D than suggested by the Institute of Medicine, which is only 600 IU. The authors recommend 1,000 to 2,000 IU daily.
Here are the specifics of the study, which was headed by James Vacek, MD, who, along with his team, wanted to document how vitamin D levels and use of vitamin D supplements might have an impact on the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and death. The participants included men and women whose average age was 58 years, and they were followed for five years and eight months.
At entry into the study, the average vitamin D level of the volunteers was 24 ng/mL, and 70% of the participants had a vitamin D deficiency. By the end of the study period, the findings were striking:
- Individuals who were vitamin D deficient had significantly higher rates of hypertension, coronary artery disease, and diabetes
- The risk of death from any cause was 164% higher among people who were vitamin D deficient
- Individuals who had taken vitamin D supplements were 61% more likely to avoid dying during the study
The study’s authors concluded there is “a significant association of vitamin D supplement use and improved survival in deficient subjects,” and that vitamin D supplementation is not only beneficial, but necessary as so many people are deficient in this vitamin.
Beyond the apparent benefits of vitamin D seen in this study, the nutrient is also associated with improvements in prostate health, including some evidence vitamin D may slow the growth of prostate cancer and also help with urinary incontinence.
Vitamin D also plays a critical role in promoting and maintaining bone health.
Read more in our Prostate Cancer Health Center.
Vacek JL et al. Vitamin D deficiency and supplementation and relation to cardiovascular health. American Journal of Cardiology 2012 Feb 1; 109(3): 359-63