Vitamin D found to protect against heart disease, but Americans don't get enough

Vitamin D, the nutrient that most people will find in a glass of milk, has been found to protect against heart disease. The problem? Most Americans don't get nearly enough.

Vitamin D, the nutrient that most people will find in a glass of milk, has been found to protect against heart disease.

Known for aiding calcium absorption -- it's the vitamin responsible for milk building strong bones -- vitamin D has been found to affect other areas of metabolism, according to a new study.

To boot, Americans aren't receiving enough of the vitamin, which could affect heart health. Heart disease is the nation's number one killer.

In the study, researchers from the Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah looked at 27,686 healthy adults aged 50 or older whose vitamin D levels had been measured during routine checkups. A majority of the patients were found to be deficient in the vitamin, and two-thirds were deemed to have levels below healthy.

Less than two years later, those participants who had extremely low levels of the vitamin were almost twice as likely to have died or suffered a stroke than those with adequate amounts, according to the study. Those with low levels of vitamin D also had more coronary artery disease and were twice as likely to have developed heart failure.

"Normal" vitamin D levels were set at more than 30 nanograms per milliliter of blood, "low" was set between 15 and 30 nanograms per milliliter, and "very low" was less than 15.

The study results aren't sufficient to prove that a lack of vitamin D causes heart disease, just a link between the two. And it's possible that these older patients were spending more time inside, away from the sun's rays, which are rich with vitamin D. But the vitamin's effects on blood pressure, inflammation and glucose levels all prove that cardiologists are paying more attention to the role of the nutrient in critical cardiovascular processes.

The findings are being presented today at an American Heart Association conference in Orlando.

(Concerned about your own vitamin D levels? Check with a doctor and request that he or she run blood tests. You can get vitamin D supplements at any drugstore, but note that excessive amounts can be toxic.)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com