A growing number of studies support the idea that low levels of vitamin D are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, and that adding vitamin D supplements can help reduce this risk. Several large trials to learn more about this connection are underway, although there is not yet any conclusive evidence.
Vitamin D helps protect our bones and muscles. A deficiency leads to softening of the bones (rickets or osteomalacia). It has also been suggested that low levels of vitamin D could be linked to chronic diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and heart and circulatory disease . The BHF has funded
research in this area .
Vitamin D and heart failure
Heart failure is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition, wherein the heart is unable to pump sufficient blood and oxygen to nourish the tissues of the body. In 2009, around 1 in 9 deaths in the United States "included heart failure as contributing cause."
And because heart failure is so common, understanding exactly what is involved physiologically is important. Due to the recent evidence that vitamin D might protect against heart failure, scientists are keen to get a clearer understanding of the relationship.
Although the benefits of vitamin D for heart health are becoming well-established, the mechanisms at work are not understood. Recently, a team of researchers from Westmead Institute for Medical Research in Australia decided to take a closer look.
The benefits of vitamin D are becoming increasingly known, but we still don't fully understand how, mechanistically, it can help with heart disease management. We wanted to know more about how vitamin protects the heart after a heart attack."
Lead researcher Prof. James Chong
To dig into this problem, the scientists used a mouse model and a form of vitamin D called 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25D), which "interacts with hormones." They wanted to understand how 1,25D affected an important set of heart cells.
The cells of interest to the team are known as cardiac colony-forming unit fibroblasts (cCFU-Fs), and they are responsible for forming scar tissue following a heart attack.
Getting an edge on heart failure
A heart attack occurs when the supply of blood to the heart is stopped. And, because no oxygen is reaching sections of the tissue, they become damaged, which triggers inflammation in the region. In the inflamed tissue, cCFU-Fs begin to replace damaged cells with "collagen-based scar tissue."
As Chong explains, "This is a problem because scarring of heart tissue can reduce the heart's ability to pump blood effectively, which can lead to heart failure."
The team found that vitamin D was able to block the action of cCFU-Fs, thereby preventing the buildup of scar tissue and potentially stopping a blockage from developing.
Their results are published this week in the journal Heart Lung and Circulation.
On the importance of the results, Chong explains, "Cardio vascular diseases, including heart attacks and heart failure, are the leading cause of death worldwide."
"To change this, we need to research heart conditions from every possible angle. This study is the first to demonstrate the role of 1,25D in regulating cardiac progenitor cells, and the findings are encouraging. With further study, vitamin D could prove to be an exciting, low-cost addition to current treatments, and we hope to progress these findings into clinical trials for humans."
So, although research into vitamin D and its cardio protective powers is in its infancy, the results are encouraging. Finding any intervention that improves the chances of battling heart disease is good news, and finding one that is readily available is an added bonus.
So what does this mean for our diets ?
During spring and summer eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting out in the sunshine for short periods should be all we need to get enough vitamin D. But if you don’t eat many foods that contain vitamin D, consider taking a supplement in autumn and winter. Vitamin D is found naturally in oily fish , red meat, liver and egg yolks , and is added to foods like breakfast cereals and fat spreads. A 140g piece of baked salmon contains 10.2 micrograms, a bowl of fortified brand lakes has 1.5 micrograms and an egg has 1.9 micrograms,which also helps in increasing your reading ability(click here to read more on how to increase your reading ability);
Some people don’t get out in the sun, even in spring and summer, or always cover their skin when they do. If this is you, a vitamin D supplement throughout the year might be advisable. If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor or dietitian.