Could Vitamin D supplements benefit people with heart failure?

April 6, 2016 Providence Health Team

A team from The Leeds Teaching Hospitals in the UK recently presented new research findings about vitamin D and heart disease. In a meeting of the American College of Cardiology, the researchers suggested that in a trial of 163 heart failure patients they found the popular vitamin helped improve the patients’ hearts' ability to pump blood around the body.

Much has been written in recent years about the benefits of vitamin D on popular health blogs and medical sites. Some of these sites seem to support the popular supplement, while others such as Harvard Health Publications remain neutral. Either way, vitamin and mineral supplements continue to climb in popularity as sales totaled $14.3 billion in 2014 according to the National Institutes of Health.

Average participant's age: 70

In the Leeds study, 163 heart failure patients with an average age of 70 participated in the trial. They all showed lower levels of vitamin D even during the sunnier months of summer, which usually increases D levels in people. But the study's cardiologists were not surprised as they said that the skin's ability to manufacture vitamin D gets less effective with age.

In the year-long trial, patients were given one of two options. The first group was given a 100 microgram tablet of vitamin D. The second group took a sugar pill placebo. The researchers specifically measured the impact on heart failure. This is a condition where the heart becomes too weak to pump blood properly. The most important metric was looking at the ejection fraction, or, the amount of blood pumped out of the chambers of the heart with each beat.

Improving blood flow

In a healthy adult, the ejection fraction figure is between 60% and 70%, but only a quarter of the blood in the heart was being successfully pumped out in the research patients. But in those taking the vitamin pills, the ejection fraction increased from 26% to 34%. According to the study's doctors, the progress in the participants was as good as other treatments costing significantly more. What's might be considered even more surprising is the reasonable cost of the vitamin.

While the researchers said they were encouraged with their data, they also added the need for a larger study to test their results. As a result, they were not ready to recommend that doctors prescribe high dose vitamin D to their patients yet. The British Heart Foundation said much the same.

Symptoms of low vitamin D

So how do you know if your vitamin D levels are healthy? In our post about “how much vitamin D do you need,” we discussed several factors.

First, our ancestors, who worked outside in the sun all day, rarely had trouble getting enough vitamin D. With only 10 to 15 minutes of sun on the arms, legs and face a few days a week, the body usually produces sufficient amounts. However, we don't spend that much time out of doors today. And except during summer months, people living north of the 37th parallel (that’s us) do not get enough sunlight for adequate skin production of vitamin D.

In addition, adults age 65 plus usually show significantly lowered vitamin D production. And blood levels of vitamin D are only about half as high in African Americans as in Caucasian Americans.

Symptoms of low vitamin D include: chronic pain, tenderness and weakness, particularly in the lower back, hips and legs. An increasing number of experts recommend testing for vitamin D deficiency, especially if you:

  • Are over age 70
  • Have darker skin
  • Live in a northern (or smoggy) area
  • Take medications such as glucocorticoids or thiazide diuretics that interfere with vitamin D production

Good sources of vitamin D

Outside of sunlight, you will find below other excellent sources of vitamin D. These include:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Tuna
  • Eggs
  • Mushrooms
  • Fortified foods such as milk, orange juice and cereals

As always, we recommend exercising good judgment. So before doing anything, talk to your health care provider about your risk for vitamin D deficiency.

Need a primary care doctor? Look for one in your neighborhood.

Previous Article
Could aspirin therapy prevent cardiovascular disease?
Could aspirin therapy prevent cardiovascular disease?

Adults in their 50s with risk factors for heart disease should take a low-dose aspirin (81 mg) daily, accor...

Next Article
Study finds that 1 in 5 kids has unhealthy cholesterol
Study finds that 1 in 5 kids has unhealthy cholesterol

High cholesterol is a problem for a surprising number of children, a new study reveals. Here are five ways ...