More Good News About Vitamin D:
It's Great For Your Heart Too!

For the last few years vitamin D has been in the news due to the fact that researchers around the world have discovered that a sizeable percentage of adults and children around the globe suffer from vitamin deficiencies and because of the vitamin's surprising health benefits for preventing a variety of disease conditions.

Since it was first discovered in the early 1900s, vitamin D has been known to be essential for healthy bones and the prevention of rickets and osteomalacia, the adult from of rickets. Both diseases are characterized by bone deformities caused by an unhealthy softening of the bones that results in them becoming excessively flexible and brittle.

Until the late 1970s, most health professionals believed that vitamin D deficiencies were rare, due to the decline in cases of rickets and osteomalacia worldwide. More recent research, however, has shown this assumption is not only wrong, but that other serious diseases can also be triggered by a lack of vitamin D in the human body. In addition, researchers now realize that vitamin D isn't a vitamin at all. In fact, it is a prohormone substance that is produced in the body following exposure to ultraviolet solar radiation from the sun. It is then converted by the liver and kidneys into an active hormone that provides a variety of important health benefits.

In the past two decades, researchers from around the world have begun taking another look at vitamin D. Among their most interesting discoveries is the fact that every cell and tissue in the human body has a receptor site for vitamin D. What this means is that all of your bodies cells and tissues recognize and respond to vitamin D. More importantly, these same cells and tissues have a wide variety of genes that vitamin D regulate. When vitamin D deficiencies occur, over time many of these genes will no longer function properly. One such result of this lack of proper regulation is that the genes that control normal cell growth start to malfunction, leading to uncontrolled cell growth, a primary hallmark of cancer. It's because vitamin D is able to prevent uncontrolled cell growth from happening that researchers today now recognize vitamin D as an important anti-cancer agent. Today, researchers know that vitamin D helps to reduce the risk of various types of cancer, including breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancer.

In addition to these types of cancer, researchers now know that vitamin D can significantly reduce the risk of other diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS), skin disorders such as psoriasis, type I and type II diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and various upper respiratory conditions (including asthma), obesity, and tuberculosis (TB).

And Vitamin D Also Helps To Prevent Heart Attacks and Stroke!

Just as your body's cells and tissues have vitamin D receptor sites, so too do your blood vessels. This fact means it is not surprising that vitamin D improves the ability of the heart muscle to contract, making overall cardiovascular function more efficient. Recent research has also shown that vitamin D also helps to prevent and reverse inflammation in the blood vessels, thereby protecting against atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), the risk of which is greatly increased by inflammation. There is also scientific evidence that vitamin D helps to maintain proper blood pressure levels due to its ability to regulate rennin, a hormone that influences blood pressure.

Taken together, the above benefits of vitamin D suggest that it plays an important role in healthy heart function. This fact was confirmed by research conducted by scientists at Harvard Medical School. Led by Dr. Thomas J. Wang, the Harvard researchers studied more than 1700 men and women with a median age of 59. At the beginning of the study, none of the participants suffered from cardiovascular disease. They were then studied for an average of 5.4 years.

According to Dr. Wang, the Harvard study showed that vitamin D deficiency is clearly associated with an increased risk of heart disease "above and beyond established cardiovascular risk factors," especially in men and women already suffering from high blood pressure.

Dr. Wang and his fellow researchers found that men and women whose blood levels of vitamin D were below 15 nanograms per milliter (15 ng/mL) had twice the risk for heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and other types of heart disease over a subsequent five year period, compared to men and women with higher blood levels of vitamin D. Moreover, when other cardiovascular risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes were taken into account and adjusted for, the risk for heart disease occurring in men and women with low blood levels of vitamin D was still 62 percent higher than for that or people with the same traditional risk factors who had higher blood levels of vitamin D.

Just as significantly, the researchers also found that the risk for heart disease increased with each level of vitamin D deficiency. In other words, the greater the vitamin D deficiency, the greater the risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke. Dr. Wang's study was published earlier this year in Circulation, the official medical journal of the American Heart Association.

Chances Are You're Deficient In Vitamin D

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, many people - children and adults alike - suffer from vitamin D deficiencies. According to Dr. Michael Holick, one of the world's foremost researchers of vitamin D, between 30 to 80 percent of all Americans are deficient in vitamin D. In a study he conducted in the Boston area last summer, he found that 34 percent of white people, 40 percent of Latinos, and 84 percent of African-American over the age of 50 were deficient in vitamin D. Similar deficiencies occur worldwide. For example, in India, between 50 and 80 percent of adults and 30 to 50 percent of children are deficient in vitamin D, according to Dr. Holick.

The primary reasons for such widespread vitamin D deficiencies are simple. First, few foods contain vitamin D, and those that do, such as fortified drinks like milk and orange juice, only contain 100 IU of vitamin D, a mere fraction of what your body needs. The main source of vitamin D is sunlight. Unfortunately, in recent decades most of us have been warned away from sunlight exposure due to fears that sunlight can cause skin cancer. (In the last few years, a number of scientists have challenged this assumption.) As a result, most people today, if they get any sunlight exposure, only do so wearing protective hats and clothing or sun block, virtually eliminating sunlight's ability to manufacture vitamin in their bodies.

Given these facts, chances are that you are deficient in vitamin D too.

"So What Can I Do About It?"

The first step you need to take to determine whether or not you are deficient in vitamin D is to have your physician test you for it. This can easily be done through a blood test. Be sure to ask him or her to measure your blood level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, also known as 25(OH)D. Make sure that your Health Expert tests for 25(OH)D and not 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D. The reason for this, according to Dr. Horlick, is that blood levels of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D are usually normal - and even elevated - in people with vitamin D deficiencies, meaning that the 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D test is not an accurate indicator of such deficiencies.

Should you be found to be vitamin D deficient, here are some useful tips for how you can safely restore your body's supply of vitamin D:
  • Supplement with the natural D3 cholecalciferol form of vitamin D (vitamin D3), since it is generally more effective and safer than synthetic forms of vitamin D.
  • Avoid supplementing with too much vitamin A while taking vitamin D3 supplements.
  • Start with a daily dose of between 1,000 and 2,000 IU of vitamin D3, especially is you exposure to natural sunlight is minimal.
  • Ask your Health Expert to test your blood 25(OH)D level again after four weeks of supplement use, and adjust your dose accordingly. Retest as necessary after that.
  • Caution: Do not use D supplements without your Health Expert's supervision if you have kidney problems, kidney stones or any disease such as sarcoidosis which makes you hypersensitive to vitamin D.
  • In addition to vitamin D3 supplementation, try to spend 15-20 minutes daily in natural sunlight without using sunscreen. For best results, expose as much of your body as you can to natural sunlight during this time.
  • If you are dark-skinned, you may require 4-6 times more sunlight exposure than light skinned people. In addition, people in northern states may also require longer exposures to sunlight, especially during winter months.

Note: The best time to benefit from sunlight exposure is between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm, which is when natural ultraviolet light from the sun is at its strongest.

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