Sunshine And Vitamin D Are Good For Your Heart
December 1, 2012
The winter months are a challenging time to be sure you get enough of the recommended daily levels of vitamin D. That’s because our skin manufactures vitamin D in response to the UV-B light rays present in sunlight. In the past, humans naturally kept their vitamin D levels in the healthy range just by being outside in the sunshine, and consuming a diet high in ocean fish.
Today, approximately 50 percent of Americans have dangerously low levels of this important vitamin, especially during the cold and dark winter months. If you live north of a line between Atlanta to Phoenix to Los Angeles, you will have a hard time maintaining normal vitamin D levels in the winter months, even if you spend a lot of time outside.
Even in the summer, with our indoor lifestyles and occupations, and the sun-protected clothing and sunscreens we wear when we are outside, many of us are still vitamin D deficient.
Vitamin D for Preventing Common Infections
Studies show that vitamin D is important for improving the vigilance of the immune system (its ability to recognize foreign invaders whether they be cancer cells or dangerous microbes). Research also shows that keeping your vitamin D levels in the normal range could reduce the risk for developing many of the most common and lethal malignancies, including melanoma, and cancers of the colon, breast, and prostate.
Inadequate vitamin D levels also may predispose you to inflammatory and/or autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin D and Your Heart
This vitamin is really more of a hormone due to its wide-ranging effects throughout the body. We have known for a long time that vitamin D is important for building and maintaining strong bones and muscles. However, vitamin D receptors are not just present in our musculoskeletal system, but also are in the heart and blood vessels, the kidneys, pancreas, white blood cells, and brain.
Studies continue to show that low vitamin D levels are strongly linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, inflammation, coronary artery disease and stroke. Large prospective randomized trials are in progress to prove definitively whether vitamin D supplements will reduce heart attack and stroke.
The first and predictable symptom of vitamin D deficiency is muscle aching. We have found that the muscle aches people commonly complain of when they are taking a cholesterol-lowering medication are markedly improved or cured by restoring the individual’s vitamin D levels back to normal.
How to Take Vitamin D
The recommended levels of vitamin D are changing, but currently, many medical organizations recommend most adults take 2,000 IU (International Units) of vitamin D3 daily. The average American gets only 150 IU daily of vitamin D from foods like tuna, salmon and fortified milk. The typical multivitamin provides only about 400 IUs of vitamin D. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels. Many individuals will need more than this to keep their blood levels of vitamin D in the ideal range, which are about 40 to 60 ng/mL.
I strongly recommend that if you take more than 2,000 to 3,000 IU of vitamin D daily, it is also important to work with your health care provider and follow your vitamin D blood levels. One more point: to ensure maximum absorption, try to consume your vitamin D with a meal that contains some healthy fat like olive oil, fish oil, nuts, or avocados.
Dr. O’Keefe is a cardiologist with Saint Luke’s Cardiovascular Consultants, located in Lee’s Summit at 20 N.E. Saint Luke’s Blvd., Suite 110, 816-931-1883. To read Dr. O’Keefe’s newsletter, For the Heart, online visit: http://www.saintlukeshealthsystem.org/saint-lukes-cardiovascular-consultants-newsletter.