Vitamin D, also referred to as the sunshine vitamin, has gained scientific favor in the past decade as new research continues to shine a light on the importance of vitamin D for good health.
This fat-soluble vitamin first attracted attention for its role in bone health. Working hand-in-hand with calcium, vitamin D helps promote strong bones and may help prevent osteoporosis as well as reduce the risk of bone loss and fracture. Vitamin D helps your body efficiently absorb and retain calcium—and phosphorous—which in turn not only strengthens your bones, but also your teeth and gums.
BLOG: The Latest Research on COVID and Vitamin D
Beyond the bones, vitamin D plays a key role in making sure your body functions properly. For example, vitamin D aides in protecting against DNA damage and regulates the growth rate of cells. Your body needs vitamin D to help your muscles move and transmit messages between your brain and your body. Read more about other potential vitamin D health benefits here.
There’s another area where vitamin D’s reputation is getting stronger and stronger, thanks to a growing body of scientific evidence—supporting your immune system. Not only does vitamin D fight off bacteria and viruses, but there’s an increasing interest in some scientific circles about vitamin D and COVID-19. For example, one systematic review found supplementing with vitamin D to be effective in reducing COVID-19 severity.
Does Vitamin D Help with the Heart?
Yes, there’s some research that says that it does. And we’re going to go through some of the ways along with some of the qualifiers. Let’s take a look at a few of the studies on vitamin D on different aspects of heart health or known risk factors for heart health.
Much of that research is based on observational studies, which show an association, rather than cause and effect. And what you’ll also see is that a lot of the research indicates that vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency is what is associated with the heart health problem. Other research makes a connection with too much vitamin D being potentially problematic for heart health.
Vitamin D and Heart Rate and Rhythm
For example, there’s vitamin D and heart rate, with heart rate defined as the number of times your heart beats within a certain amount of time, say, for a minute. This article makes some interesting connections about vitamin D and calcium and heart rate.
The author explains that a vitamin D deficiency may result in an irregular heartbeat but also advises that too much vitamin D might lead to the same issue. And, she says, it’s the way that vitamin D impacts the amount of calcium absorption that leads to the problem. Why? Calcium helps produce electronic impulses and muscle contractions that help regulate your heartbeat. So, too little vitamin D or too much vitamin D affects whether you have too little calcium or too much calcium—and either situation can lead to an irregular heartbeat.
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What about low vitamin D and heart palpitations? The Mayo Clinic describes heart palpitations as the feeling of a fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart, adding that although heart palpitations are usually harmless, they can signal something more serious such as a heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
This scientific review article shared that several studies have associated vitamin D deficiency with a bigger risk of developing heart arrhythmias and other heart related concerns such as arterial hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and even sudden cardiac death.
Does Vitamin D Impact Blood Pressure?
A number of studies have found an association between high plasma vitamin D levels and a reduced risk of high blood pressure. In addition, there are studies that have demonstrated a link between low vitamin D and high blood pressure. But at this point, cause and effect, with either situation, has not been conclusively demonstrated.
And the jury is out as to whether or not vitamin D can actually lower blood pressure. For example, the results from this meta-analysis indicated that supplementing with vitamin D did not lower blood pressure in the general population, adding that randomized controlled trials with long-term interventions and a sufficient number of study participants with low vitamin D levels would be needed to validate the findings.
On the other hand, that same write-up pointed to another meta-analysis of 30 RCTs that suggested supplementing with vitamin D at a dose of >800 IU/daily significantly reduced blood pressure.
Confused yet? Not to worry. We’re getting to some tips that may be helpful.
VIDEO: Is More Vitamin D Better?
Does Vitamin D Clear the Arteries?
When fatty plaque builds up in your arteries that’s known as atherosclerosis. The plaque causes arteries to narrow, blocking blood flow. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a blockage or narrowing of the blood vessels that reduces blood flow specially to your legs and arms.
When people google “does vitamin D clear the arteries” or does “vitamin D clean the arteries” they’re asking whether or not vitamin D can reduce or eliminate the fatty plaque artery build-up that can lead to heart attacks, the need for bypass surgery, and other cardiovascular problems, like stroke or vascular dementia.
This scientific literature review found evidence linking vitamin D deficiency to cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis.
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And this one too noted potential benefit for vitamin D and heart health, stating that “experimental studies suggest that optimal levels of vitamin D have beneficial effects on the heart and blood vessels.” On the other hand, the authors expressed that high vitamin D concentrations may promote vascular calcification and arterial stiffness.
Various clinical studies and observational data, the review authors said, demonstrated that vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a greater risk of PAD. But what is still missing, the authors advised, is the lack of clarity surrounding the ideal level of vitamin D necessary to prevent PAD and therefore they expressed the need for further research.
Just How Much Vitamin D Should You be Getting?
First of all, it depends on who you ask.
Government recommendations call for average daily recommended amounts of 10 mcg a day (400 IU) for the first year of life. From there, the recommendation goes up to 15 mcg (600 IU) for those ages 1 – 70 years, and 20 mcg (800 IU) for those over 70 years.
And when it comes to heart health and vitamin D, JoAnn E. Manson M.D., Dr.P.H., a study author and chief of the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School had this to say: “It takes only small-to-moderate amounts of vitamin D to have optimal cardiovascular function More is not better.”
Recent findings indicated that high doses of vitamin D do not improve heart and circulatory health for most adults any more than modest doses do.
BLOG: Is There Such a Thing as Getting Too Much Vitamin D?
Interestingly, the government considers vitamin D a “nutrient of public health concern,” given that most Americans are not getting even the recommended daily amount.
Manson did note that is reasonable for those adults concerned about not getting enough vitamin D to take a daily supplement of 1,000-2,000 IU; however, she cautions against taking more, advising that more than 4,000 IU daily is considered mega-dosing and could lead to adverse effects.
Other experts, too, suggest that some people could benefit from doses above the daily government recommendations, but those experts are usually recommending higher doses for the general benefits of vitamin D, not necessarily for heart-related benefits. For example, the Endocrine Society recommends 1,500 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily for adults.
If you’re still interested in more research, we blogged on this topic last year.
Dose Matters & Testing Tells You if Your Dose is Working
The best way to know if your body is low in vitamin D is to test your blood levels. At OmegaQuant, we offer a simple, convenient, at-home blood test to determine if you’re in the sufficient (20-30 ng/mL) or optimal (>20-30 ng/mL) range for vitamin D; or if you’re landing at insufficient (10-20 ng/mL) or even deficient (<10 ng/mL) levels.
Three Other Things to Keep in Mind
- The heart is a complex organ and heart disease is a multifactorial condition meaning that many factors contribute to heart disease, including smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity or being overweight, poor diet and lack of physical activity. Genetics may also play a role, but you can be proactive in addressing some of the contributors to heart disease.
- Manage your expectations for vitamin D and heart health. While vitamin D is a powerful nutrient, it is not a drug and should not be expected to act like a drug. Nutrients generally rely on their synergistic effects with other nutrients and lifestyle habits.
- Measure, modify, and monitor. Once you’ve measured your blood levels for vitamin D, from there you can modify your vitamin D regimen (as needed) and monitor through testing twice a year to make sure you remain in the desired range.
Bottom line: By all means, get your vitamin D (from food, supplements and the sun) for all of its possible health benefits. Don’t increase your vitamin D intake or exposure (if from sun) with the expectation that it, alone, will keep your heart healthy or reduce your risk of heart disease. For the best heart health results, practice a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes proper diet (and supplements as needed), regular physical activity, plenty of sleep, weight management, reduced stress, and no smoking.