(NaturalNews) Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular events, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Harvard Medical School and published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation.
Researchers followed 1,739 people for five years, assessing their vitamin D levels by means of regular blood tests. The average age of participants was 59. All participants were white, had no prior history of cardiovascular disease, and were the children of the original participants in the multigenerational Framingham Heart Study.
Participants with low levels of vitamin D had a 60 percent higher chance of experiencing a cardiovascular event, including heart attack, heart failure or stroke, during the study period than participants with high blood levels. The correlation remained even after researchers adjusted for other risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Those who had both vitamin D deficiency and high blood pressure had twice the risk of cardiovascular events as those who had vitamin D deficiency alone.
"There is a growing body of experimental literature suggesting that vitamin D may have some actions on the heart and major blood levels," said lead researcher Thomas Wang. "As a corollary, the lack of vitamin D may be associated with the development of cardiac abnormalities."
The connection between Vitamin D and bone health is well-established, due to the vitamin's role in helping the body absorb calcium. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a bone softening disorder in children known as rickets, and can increase adults' risk of osteoporosis. More recent research has also suggested that high vitamin D intake may also protect against certain cancers and the neurodegenerative disease multiple sclerosis.
The body naturally produces vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight. Health professionals recommend that light-skinned people get 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine exposure at least three times per week, and that darker skinned people get up to twice that amount.