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BLOG: June 2008

Vitamin D health significance growing

It's been known for quite a while that we need vitamin D to maintain optimum health. What hasn't been known is exactly how much of a difference your vitamin D levels can make. And the more it is researched, the more evidence emerges that it is more important than previously thought. It is all but certain now that vitamin D health benefits extend to safeguarding against some of the major degenerative diseases plaguing most industrialized countries.

The most recent news comes from a long-term study on over 18,000 physicians (Giovannucci and Hollis, Archives of Internal Medicine, June 2008). According to the data, after weighing in other relevant factors, those physicians with no more than half the minimum acceptable blood level of vitamin D had twice the rate of heart attacks - and even higher rate of the fatal outcome - than those that had vitamin D level above the minimum.

Study results are in line with another recent study from January this year, researching the role of vitamin D in prevention of heart attack, heart failure and stroke. Some other recent studies suggest, although not quite conclusively, that it could also have significant anti-cancer properties.

While the exact mechanisms through which vitamin D plays important role in protecting from cardiovascular disease are still fairly obscured - in part due to dependence on complex interactions with a number of other relevant factors - what is already known gives us pretty good hints as to how it does it.

Since the body makes vitamin D from cholesterol, its low level may stimulate body's cholesterol production, in an attempt to increase production of vitamin D. Elevated levels of this "bad" (LDL) cholesterol can, under unfavorable circumstances (high free radical exposure, low level of antioxidants) can contribute to the narrowing of blood vessels, resulting in cardiovascular disease. This is only a possibility, but cannot be ruled out.

Along this line, low vitamin D level will make depositing calcium into the bones and teeth inefficient, with the loose calcium not excreted through the kidneys more likely to end up calcifying blood vessel walls, joints and other soft tissues.

Also, with vitamin D having balancing role in body's inflammatory response, by suppressing pro-inflammatory cytokines (proteins regulating inflammatory reaction) like TNF (tumor necrosis factor), while stimulating production of anti-inflammatory cytokines, like interlukin 10 (Schleithoff et al., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2006), lack of it is likely to result in more of inflammatory damage. With inflammatory damage to the inner lining of blood vessel walls being major factor leading into formation of wall deposits narrowing the arteries, it is easy to see why are adequate levels of vitamin D beneficial in protecting from cardiovascular disease.

In addition, it also significantly improves insulin sensitivity. Depending of how low are its initial blood levels, supplemental vitamin D improves insulin sensitivity between 20% (low initial level) and 60%. In comparison, the most commonly prescribed drug for diabetes, metamorfin, improves insulin sensitivity by only 13%12.

Knowing how much developing diabetes increases the chances of cardiovascular complications, this alone would make vitamin D a significant factor in reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease.