By Dr. Mercola
It’s no surprise to see vitamin D making headlines again, this time related to research suggesting it is a powerhouse to prevent and restore damage done to your heart.1 Previously, scientists linked changes to your endothelium — a unique organ system that lines your entire circulatory system — with serious health conditions, such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and tumor growth.
Now, a new study2 suggests vitamin D3 plays a vital role in protecting and restoring the damage those diseases do to your endothelium. In addition, the findings suggest the presence of vitamin D3 also triggers nitric oxide, a molecule known to play an important signaling role in controlling blood flow and preventing blood clot formation in your blood vessels.
Furthermore, vitamin D3 was shown to significantly reduce oxidative stress in your vascular system, which is important to help prevent the development and/or progression of cardiovascular disease. If you haven’t checked your vitamin D blood level in the past six months, you now have another reason to do it — to protect your heart and decrease your risk of heart disease. For optimal health, you want a level in the 60 to 80 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) range.
If you live in a northern climate and are not able to enjoy regular sun exposure, I recommend you take an oral vitamin D supplement, as well as vitamin K2 and magnesium. Because they work synergistically, you need all three to ensure proper balance and maximum effectiveness.
Research Suggests Vitamin D3 Protects Your Heart
Research3 conducted at Ohio University suggests vitamin D3 has positive effects on your endothelium, the thin layer of tissue that lines the blood vessels within your vascular system. Published in the International Journal of Nanomedicine,4 the study describes how scientists used nanosensors and a cell model to identify the molecular mechanisms vitamin D3 triggers in your endothelium.
Several earlier studies had also highlighted vitamin D3’s positive effect on the endothelium, including its effects on patients battling chronic kidney disease (CKD) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).5,6,7,8 Individuals suffering from CKD and SLE have noticeable endothelial dysfunction and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Prior to these and other studies, your endothelium was thought to serve very little purpose other than facilitating the passage of electrolytes and water in and out of your bloodstream. That said, as mentioned, changes to your endothelium have been associated with serious diseases. In the current research, the presence of vitamin D3 was shown to:9
- Preserve your endothelium
- Restore your endothelium to health in cases where it has suffered damage due to one of the above-mentioned diseases
- Act as a powerful trigger of nitric oxide, a molecule known to play a vital signaling role in controlling blood flow and preventing the formation of blood clots in your blood vessels
- Reduce oxidative stress in your vascular system, which prevents the development and/or progression of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure, among others
According to the researchers, led by professor Tadeusz Malinski, Ph.D., chair of Ohio University’s chemistry & biochemistry department, the study results suggest:10
“[T]reatment with vitamin D3 can significantly restore the damage to the cardiovascular system caused by several diseases, including hypertension, atherosclerosis and diabetes, while also reducing the risk of heart attack. These studies, performed on cells from Caucasian Americans and African-American, yielded similar results for both ethnic groups.”
While Malinski asserts many of those who suffer a heart attack present as vitamin D deficient, it doesn't mean the deficiency caused the heart attack. It’s more likely, he says, being deficient in vitamin D increased the person’s risk of having a heart attack. As such, optimizing your vitamin D3 level is an important consideration toward reducing your risk of heart disease.
“There are not many, if any, known systems which can be used to restore cardiovascular endothelial cells which are already damaged, and vitamin D3 can do it,” stated Malinski. “This is a very inexpensive solution to repair the cardiovascular system. We don’t have to develop a new drug. We already have it.”11
More Ways Vitamin D Supports Your Health and Well-Being
Despite its name, vitamin D is not a regular vitamin. It is actually a steroid hormone obtained primarily from sun exposure, and its ability to influence genetic expression produces many of its wide-ranging health benefits. A growing body of evidence shows vitamin D plays a crucial role in disease prevention and maintaining optimal health. Of the nearly 30,000 genes in your body, vitamin D affects nearly 3,000 of them, while also impacting vitamin D receptors located throughout your body.
Vitamin D is so important, research suggests simply increasing vitamin D3 levels in the general population could lower rates of chronic diseases such as depression, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and obesity, among others. Beyond contributing to strong bones, sufficient amounts of vitamin D can help reduce your risk of several types of cancer. Furthermore, vitamin D strengthens your immune system, which protects you from colds and the flu by helping your body attack and destroy bacteria and viruses.
Finally, there’s some evidence to suggest vitamin D deficiencies are linked to depression (particularly seasonal depression), especially among older adults. Researchers examining the effects of vitamin D on the moods of 80 elderly patients found the ones with the lowest vitamin D levels were 11 times more likely to suffer from depression.12
Safeguard Your Heart, Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels
Regardless of whether you have ever had heart problems, your body needs a certain amount of vitamin D for optimal health, and there is a good chance you may be deficient. While the recommended vitamin D level for general health was previously noted as 40 to 60 ng/ml range, 60 to 80 ng/ml is the current recommended range for optimal health and disease prevention. The best way to raise your vitamin D is by regularly and sensibly exposing large amounts of your skin to sunshine.
However, depending on where you live, that might not be possible. If you reside in a northern climate, you will want to take an oral vitamin D3 supplement along with vitamin K2 and magnesium. Because they work synergistically, you need all three to ensure proper balance and maximum effectiveness.
If you have red hair, you may be interested to know scientists believe redheads require less vitamin D. You can determine your maintenance dose of vitamin D by measuring your blood level, which I suggest you check at least twice a year.
This is particularly important if you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant, or if you have cancer. The best times to check are in winter and summer, when your levels will be at their lowest and highest, respectively. As a general guideline, vitamin D experts recommend 4,000 IUs per day for adults, but that applies only if you are already in the therapeutic range. If your levels are low, you may need 8,000 IUs or more per day to start.
You’ll want to keep a watchful eye on your levels during the darker winter months, especially because a lack of UV exposure can bring out the “winter blues,” leading to feelings of depression. If you notice your mood and energy levels are down, you may not be getting enough vitamin D.
Keep in mind living in an area receiving year-round sun does not guarantee you will receive sufficient vitamin D. You will undoubtedly be at risk of missing out on vitamin D from natural sun exposure if you spend most of your time indoors, use topical sunscreens or wear long clothing for religious reasons.
Are You Vitamin D Deficient?
The Harvard School of Public Health suggests an estimated 1 billion people worldwide have low vitamin D levels, with deficiencies noted across all age and ethnic groups.13 Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicates about 90 percent of Americans with dark skin pigments and 75 percent of Caucasians are vitamin D deficient.14 The signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:
Achy or broken bones
Because vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, it plays a role in your bone health. Studies involving older adults have associated low vitamin D levels with an increased risk of falls and fractures.15
Age 50 or older
At age 50, your kidneys may become less effective at metabolizing inactive vitamin D into its active form. At age 70 and beyond, your body will produce about one-third less vitamin D through sun exposure than it did when you were younger.
Overweight and obesity
Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, when your fat cells uptake it, less is available for use elsewhere in your body.16 For this reason, some experts recommend you increase your intake of vitamin D if you are obese.
Melanin, which determines your degree of skin pigmentation and protects your body from harmful UV radiation, impairs your skin’s ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight. If you have darker skin, your body may need up to 10 times more sun exposure to produce adequate vitamin D as compared to a person with lighter skin.
Feeling depressed, consistently having low energy and body aches
Thanks to the brain hormone serotonin, your mood automatically elevates when you are in the sun. If your mood is depressed only during winter, you may need to increase your intake of vitamin D. Also, if you’ve received a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia, you may want to check to see if vitamin D deficiency may be the root cause.
Frequent colds and flu
A Japanese study indicated schoolchildren taking 1,200 units of vitamin D per day during winter reduced their risk of contracting the flu by about 40 percent.17
One of the classic signs of vitamin D deficiency is a sweaty head. Excessive sweating in newborns due to neuromuscular irritability is recognized as a common, early symptom of vitamin D deficiency.18
Use the Dminder App to Track Your Sun Exposure
For more information about the importance of vitamin D, check out my interview with Dr. Michael Hollick, a leading authority on vitamin D and professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at Boston University Medical Center. Hollick consulted with a company responsible for the development of a smartphone app called dminder, which is available for download at dminder.ontometrics.com.
Based on your local weather conditions and unique parameters such as your age and skin tone, dminder tracks everything you need to know about vitamin D. For example, it tells you how much UV radiation you're getting, how many units of vitamin D you're making and when to get out of the sun to avoid sunburn. You may not realize your body cannot make vitamin D when you're exposed to sunlight through glass, but it’s true. Glass filters out most of the UVB responsible for stimulating vitamin D production.
Through glass, you're mostly getting UVA rays, which penetrate deeply into your skin, cause wrinkling and increase your risk of skin damage and skin cancer. Beware: UVA radiation is harsher in the morning and late afternoon.
As such (and contrary to popular advice, which was tailored more to tanning than optimizing vitamin D stores), you'll want to avoid excessive sun exposure in the early morning and afternoon. With respect to the best time for sun exposure, authors of a study published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology said:19
“To get an optimal vitamin D supplement from the sun at a minimal risk of getting cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM), the best time of sun exposure is noon. Thus, common health recommendations given by authorities in many countries, that sun exposure should be avoided for three to five hours around noon and postponed to the afternoon, may be wrong, and may even promote CMM.
[S]hort, nonerythemogenic exposures around noon should be recommended rather than longer nonerythemogenic exposures in the afternoon. This would give a maximal yield of vitamin D at a minimal CMM risk.”
When planning your sun exposure, be sure to take into account daylight saving time (if you live in an area affected by it). During periods of standard time, the best time for maximum sun exposure is noon. When you're observing daylight saving time, due to the one-hour shift, peak sun exposure will take place at 1 p.m. instead of noon. Regardless of the season, make a plan today to soak up some sun and increase your vitamin D level. When you do, both your endothelium and heart will thank you.