Low levels of Vitamin D may increase the risk of heart attack and early death, according to a study from the University of Copenhagen and Copenhagen University Hospital.

Although vitamin D is most commonly associated with healthy bones, various population studies have demonstrated that low levels of this vitamin may increase the risk of developing ischemic heart disease, angina, coronary arteriosclerosis, and heart attack.

Other research has suggested that low levels of this vitamin may cause high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack. One particular study in 2009 indicated that vitamin D deficiency in young women may increase the chance of developing systolic hypertension.

In the current study, the largest one yet, the experts gathered and analyzed data of over 10,000 Danes in order to identify the link between low vitamin D levels and ischemic heart disease and death.

Results showed, Dr. Peter Brøndum-Jacobsen, Clinical Biochemical Department, Copenhagen University Hospital, explained, that low Vitamin D levels compared to optimal levels are linked to:

  • 64% higher risk of heart attack
  • 57% higher risk of early death
  • 40% higher risk of ischemic heart disease
  • at least 81% higher risk of death from heart disease

The 5% lowest levels of the vitamin (less than 15 nanomol vitamin per liter serum) were compared with the 50% highest levels (more than 50 nanomol vitamin per liter serum). It is recommended in Denmark to have a vitamin D status of at least 50 nanomol vitamin per liter serum.

After controlling for certain variables that could impact the results, the higher risks were still evident. The findings were published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

This examination was formed from the population study, The Copenhagen City Heart Study, which measured vitamin D levels in blood samples from 1981 to 1983. Scientists used the nationwide Danish registries to follow subjects up to the present.

Børge Nordestgaard, clinical professor at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen and senior physician at Copenhagen University Hospital, said:

“With this type of population study, we are unable to say anything definitive about a possible causal relationship. But we can ascertain that there is a strong statistical correlation between a low level of vitamin D and high risk of heart disease and early death. The explanation may be that a low level of vitamin D directly leads to heart disease and death. However, it is also possible that vitamin deficiency is a marker for poor health generally.”

In order to identify whether low levels of vitamin D have a genuine causal relationship with the risk of heart disease, the team is furthering their investigations.

If their future research supports these findings, it will potentially have an enormous impact on the health of the world population, considering that heart disease is the most common cause of adult death, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Every year, approximately 17 million die from heart disease.

Børge Nordestgaard concluded:

“The cheapest and easiest way to get enough vitamin D is to let the sun shine on your skin at regular intervals. There is plenty of evidence that sunshine is good, but it is also important to avoid getting sunburned, which increases the risk of skin cancer. Diet with a good supply of vitamin D is also good, but it has not been proven that vitamin D as a dietary supplement prevents heart disease and death.”

Written by Sarah Glynn