Studies: Vitamin D May Lower Heart Disease Risk

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services -- Unrestricted

04-03-09

Medical researchers are discovering a greater relationship between heart disease and vitamin D -- a nutrient already linked to reducing certain cancers.

Studies announced Wednesday at an American Heart Association's conference on cardiovascular health showed an increased association between people with high levels of vitamin D and a lower risk of heart disease.

Adolescents in particular could face long-term implications if they don't get enough of the vitamin, which can be absorbed through exposure to the sun and is found in certain fishes and in popular fortified foods, including milk and cereal.

One study found that American teens with low levels of vitamin D in their blood were almost four times more likely to have metabolic syndrome, a cluster of heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.

"If you have other risk factors like obesity, you should be hyper-vigilant," said Jared Reis, a post-doctoral research fellow at The Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health in Baltimore. His study, presented at the conference at the Innisbrook Resort, looked at health data of more than 3,500 American teens from 2001-2004.

Although cardiovascular research about the nutrient is still evolving, previous studies have linked vitamin D intake to lower risks of colon, prostate and breast cancers, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Together with calcium, it also has been historically used to supplement bone health.

This news comes at a time when Americans appear to be decreasing their vitamin D intake. The percentage of Americans deficient in the nutrient increased to 9.2 percent in 2005-06, from 2.6 percent in 1988-94, said researcher Sandy Saintonge of the New York Hospital Queens.

She speculates the drop may have been caused by decreased milk consumption and Americans' increasing tendency to spend more time indoors.