(NaturalNews) Vitamin D supplementation may be as effective at treating high blood pressure as certain prescription drugs, research has shown. If this is true, then millions of people may be able to reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke through the safe and simple means of getting more sunlight or taking a vitamin D supplement.
Vitamin D is naturally produced by the body upon exposure to sunlight. Scientists have long known that vitamin D deficiency can lead to weakening of the teeth and bones, but more recent research has suggested that insufficient levels of vitamin D also increase the risk of autoimmune diseases, type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer, as well as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Vitamin D supplements lower blood pressure
Some of the strongest support for vitamin D's effect on high blood pressure comes from a study presented at the 2012 meeting of the European Society of Hypertension. One hundred and twelve patients from Holstebro Hospital in Denmark were given either a vitamin D supplement (725 mcg) or a placebo pill for 20 weeks during the winter. Of these patients, 92 had low levels of vitamin D when the study began.
At the end of the trial, patients who had been given vitamin D supplements showed a drop of 6.8 mmHg in central systolic blood pressure, compared with a drop of only 1.7 mmHg in the placebo group.
"The reduction in systolic blood pressure was quite significant - this is what powerful drugs do in trials," lead researcher Thomas Larsen said.
Systolic blood pressure is measured while the heart is beating, while diastolic blood pressure is measured between beats.
"What our results suggest is that hypertensive patients can benefit from vitamin D supplementation if they have vitamin D insufficiency," Larsen said. "Vitamin D would not be a cure for hypertension in these patients, but it may help, especially in the winter months."
Two subsequent studies have only strengthened the evidence. In one study, conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, 250 African American adults were randomly assigned to take either a placebo or a vitamin D supplement (1,000 IU, 2,000 IU or 4,000 IU) daily. Blood pressure was measured at the study's start and again three months later.
"African-Americans have a much higher likelihood of being vitamin D deficient compared to other races, and also a higher likelihood of having high blood pressure," lead researcher John Forman said.
The researchers found that those taking the 4,000 IU dose of vitamin D experienced a four-point drop in their systolic blood pressure, compared with a 1.7-point increase in the placebo group. "If vitamin D does lower blood pressure in African-Americans, it can have a significant public health impact," Forman said.
A possible mechanism by which vitamin D may help regulate blood pressure and heart health was found in another study, conducted by researchers from Ataturk University in Turkey and published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine in June. The researchers found that, among 33 patients newly diagnosed with hypertension, lower vitamin D blood levels were significantly associated with higher levels of arterial stiffness, left ventricle hypertrophy and inflammation. These findings suggest that, on a chemical level, vitamin D may actually modulate vascular inflammation as well as the proliferation of vascular smooth muscle and other processes associated with heart health.
The best and safest way to increase your vitamin D levels is to expose your skin to more sunlight (without sunscreen), as your body will never produce toxic levels of the vitamin.