This Vitamin Protects Against Heart Disease Risks

We're learning more and more about powerhouse nutrient vitamin D. Supplements of this vital nutrient might not just be good for your bones, they may also offer protection against heart disease risks.

While science knows vitamin D plays an important part in calcium absorption and healthy bones, a growing body of work is now suggesting supplementing with vitamin D might lower the risk of heart disease too.

Over the course of the last two decades, American's vitamin D levels have dropped dramatically and deficiencies are a known problem among the elderly populations of the world.

The body naturally produces vitamin D when you're out and about (without sunscreen) in the sun; the nutrient can also be supplied to the body by consuming one of a few natural food sources or a fortified dairy or grain product. Supplements can also provide the body with what it needs.

The current Institute of Medicine recommended intake of vitamin D is 400 IU a day for those aged 51-70, and 600 IU per day for anyone over 71 - though these levels are currently (and rightfully according to many experts) under review. The upper limit for vitamin D intake, according to the IOM's current standards, is 2,000 IUs a day.

To help understand the role of vitamin D and calcium in heart disease, researchers looked at 17 studies published from 1966 to 2009.

Six studies, five involving patients on dialysis, showed a consistent reduction in heart related deaths among those who took vitamin D supplements.

Four studies of healthy subjects found no difference in heart disease between subjects who took calcium supplements and those who didn't.

Researchers point out that few studies have investigated the effect of vitamin D supplements alone (or in combination) with calcium on heart disease risk.

A second analysis of eight studies found a slight, though statistically insignificant, reduction of 10% in heart disease risk among those who took either moderate to high doses of vitamin D supplements. No such reduction was found among those who took calcium or a combination of calcium and vitamin D supplements.

Evidence to date suggests supplementing with vitamin D at moderate to high doses may have beneficial effects on reducing the risk for heart disease, whereas supplementing with calcium appears to have no apparent effect. As a result researchers are calling for more research to explain the role of vitamin D in heart disease.

However, don't take this as a knock on calcium supplements. While it may be that calcium has a neutral effect on your heart, this doesn't mean it isn't critical to your health, especially your bones.

As with vitamin D, an altogether too large portion of the U.S. population isn't getting enough of this vital nutrient according to experts.

While more work is done, if you're concerned about your heart health, look to your vitamin D levels as one of many things to help this all-important muscle stay healthy.

Remember, you should speak with your doctor before you start taking any supplement you read about or if you change your diet and exercise program dramatically.

Keeping your heart disease risks to a minimum is within your control... you need only take the first steps.

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