Adding this vitamin to your routine may reduce your risk of heart attack, according to one study

  • Vitamin D supplements may reduce the risk of heart attack, new research shows.
  • A new study found that the rate of major cardiovascular events was 9 percent lower in those who took vitamin D supplements than in those who didn’t.
  • Experts explain why vitamin D is essential for your heart health and if supplementation is right for you.

You may know vitamin D like the sunshine vitamin. And while it’s an essential nutrient for many bodily functions, new research proves it vitamin D supplements it could reduce the risk of heart attack in the elderly.

A study published in The BMJ examined whether supplementing older adults with monthly doses of vitamin D altered the incidence of major cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke. The D-Health Trial ran from 2014 to 2020 and involved 21,315 participants aged 60 to 84.

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About half of the participants received a 60,000 IU capsule of vitamin D and the other half received a placebo. Both groups were instructed to take these supplements orally at the beginning of each month for up to five years.

During the study, 1,336 participants experienced a major cardiovascular event (6% in the vitamin D group and 6.6% in the placebo group). The researchers determined that the rate of major cardiovascular events was 9% lower in the vitamin D group than in the placebo group. The heart attack rate was 19% lower and the rate of coronary revascularization (a procedure or surgery to improve blood flow to the heart) was 11% lower in the vitamin D group, but there was no difference in the rate of stroke between the group two groups.

The researchers concluded that vitamin D supplementation could reduce the incidence of major cardiovascular events, such as heart attack or stroke, but this difference was small and not very significant. However, these findings could lead to further evaluation of the role of vitamin D supplementation, particularly in people taking drugs for the prevention or treatment of cardiovascular disease.

How Does Vitamin D Affect Heart Health?

Vitamin D plays a key role in heart health, such as in the regulation of blood pressure and calcium metabolism, as well as the reduction of inflammationoxidative stress and arterial stiffness, he says Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDNculinary nutritionist and author of The Plant-Based Diabetes Cookbook. Several studies have suggested a link between low vitamin D levels and an increased risk of heart attacks. And some, but not all, point to a potentially mild protective effect of vitamin D supplementation against heart attacks.

Studies have suggested that people with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, it adds Ernst von Schwarz, MDcardiologist and author of The secrets of immortality. But while there has been much enthusiasm for vitamin supplementation to both prevent and treat cardiovascular disease, there is little high-quality evidence to suggest that any of the vitamins studied to date have any significant impact, he says. Nick West, MDchief medical officer and divisional vice president of global medical affairs at Abbotts vascular business.

How Can You Get Enough Vitamin D?

One of the best ways to ensure your body gets enough vitamin D is through adequate sun exposure by your own skin, which synthesizes a form of the vitamin, says Newgent.

As far as vitamin D foods go, fatty fish and seafood are good sources, especially salmon, tuna, mackerel, oysters and shrimp, says Dr. West. These foods also contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to be heart-healthy. Similarly, cow’s milk (enriched or unenriched), yogurt and other dairy products, and tofu are all good sources of vitamin D, he adds.

Rather than taking a dedicated vitamin D supplement, for those who want to make sure they’re meeting their nutritional needs, a multivitamin supplement it’s quite likely, says Dr. West. Vitamin D supplements, especially at high levels, should only be taken if prescribed by a doctor, notes Dr. West.

There are also potential risks to excessive vitamin D supplementation, including kidney stone formation and possible vascular calcification (plaque buildup in blood vessels around the heart), as well as more acute effects such as nausea, vomiting and muscle weakness, notes the Dr. West, so always be sure to talk to your doctor before incorporating a supplement into your diet.

The bottom line

Vitamin D is needed for many bodily processes, including building and maintaining strong, healthy bone structure, says Dr. West. These data add to the body of evidence on a variety of vitamins (primarily vitamins C, D, and E) being studied in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, and no studies have conclusively demonstrated a benefit from adjunctive supplementation.

While multivitamins are a good way to ensure an adequate daily intake of necessary vitamins and nutrients, simple measures like maintaining a healthy diet and (in the case of vitamin D) exposure to sunlight should be sufficient for most people, she says. Dr. West. Just make sure you’re not getting too much sun and apply sunscreen When necessary.

For most people, focusing on lifestyle changes is the most effective way to maintain good cardiovascular health, Newgent adds. In other words, get regular exercise, enjoy a nutrient-rich, plant-rich meal plan, and don’t smoke.

Food supplements are products intended to supplement the diet. They are not medicinal products and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent or cure any disease. Be cautious about taking dietary supplements if you are pregnant or nursing. Also, be careful about giving supplements to a child, unless recommended by their doctor.

Headshot of Madeleine Haase

Magdalene, Preventions assistant editor, has a history with health writing from her experience as an editorial assistant at WebMD and her own research at the university. She holds degrees in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience from the University of Michigan and helps strategize for success across the globe. Preventions social media platforms.

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