Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and efforts to prevent this debilitating illness are vital. A new study says that adequate amount of vitamin D can help lower the risk of heart disease but how much of this vitamin is helpful enough?

Vitamin D is a nutrient that has many good health effects to the body including healthy bones, muscles, heart, lungs and brain. It also contributes to the body's ability to fight infection. Previous studies have pointed that vitamin D deficiency was a precursor for the occurrence of many illnesses including heart disease.

However, the adequate amount in the body needed to ward off such diseases is unclear until now. Researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute have found that patients' hearts are free from heart trouble if their vitamin D level is above 15 nanograms per milliliter.

In the past, doctors recommend having vitamin D levels above 30 ng/mL, but according to the researchers, any amount higher than 15 ng/mL can be accepted as safe levels. With their findings presented at the 2015 American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Session, evidence and research backed up this claim providing statistically sound data.

"Even if any level above 15 is safe, one out of 10 people still have vitamin D levels lower than that," lead researcher Dr. J. Brent Muhlestein, co-director of cardiovascular research at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute said in a press release.

Vitamin D is a unique vitamin because the body can produce its own vitamin D from exposure of the skin to sunlight. Eating foods rich in this vitamin like egg yolks, fish, fish liver oils and some dairy products can also be helpful.

People who have more body fat and darker skin than others may have lower levels of vitamin D in their body. Dark skinned people have a natural sunscreen called melanin that keeps the skin protected from ultraviolet rays from the sun. It also contributes to the skin's inability to properly synthesize vitamin D from the sun and for obese people; increase in body fat keeps the vitamin from circulating in the bloodstream. Thus, vitamin D supplements are needed.

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to cardiovascular disease because of many factors. Since vitamin D has beneficial effects to the body's blood pressure, blood sugar levels and inflammatory responses, which can all contribute to heart disease. If left uncontrolled, it can significantly increase the risk of heart diseases.

To evaluate the effects of vitamin D levels on heart health of more than 230,000 patients, the researchers grouped these patients to four depending on their vitamin D blood levels and were followed for three years. They tracked cardiac events of the patients throughout the study period taking note of heart disease-related death, heart attacks, stroke, coronary artery disease, heart failure and kidney failure.

They found that in the group with the least vitamin D level (<15 ng/mL), the risk of cardiovascular diseases and events increased by 35 percent compared to the other three groups. Surprisingly, the results of the other three groups were not different from each other.

"As we continue to study vitamin D and the heart, we hope to ultimately gain enough information so we can inform all patients specifically what they should do to reduce their cardiac risk as much as possible," Dr. Muhlestein said. He added that this study sheds light on the importance of taking Vitamin D supplements, increase healthy sunlight exposure, and raising awareness on the effects of having vitamin D levels below 15 ng/mL.

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