Last Updated on November 12, 2023 by Otuebo Harrison
High-dose vitamin D supplements taken once a month may lower the likelihood of heart attack or other major cardiac events in people ages 60 and up, according to a large new study published this week in The BMJ.
Although the level of risk reduction was small, researchers discovered that vitamin D supplementation may cut the incidence of heart attack and the need for coronary revascularization (procedures which restore blood flow to areas of your heart that aren’t getting enough blood)
Are There Any Heart-Protective Benefits of Vitamin D?
Research on the advantages of vitamin D for the heart has so far been inconsistent. The authors of the study noted that several earlier studies had shown that taking supplements did not prevent heart problems.
A 2019 JAMA Cardiology review of 21 clinical trials and over 83,000 individuals came to the conclusion that vitamin D supplements do not lower the risk of having a heart attack or stroke or of dying from one.
According to Rachel Neale, PhD, deputy coordinator of the population health department at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Queensland, Australia, and her study coauthors, “These [latest] findings suggest that conclusions that vitamin D supplementation does not alter the risk of cardiovascular disease are premature.”
“These findings could prompt further evaluation of the role of vitamin D supplementation, particularly in people taking drugs for the prevention or treatment of cardiovascular disease,” they noted.
A Large Trial Indicates Vitamin D May Have Some Heart Benefits
More than 21,000 individuals between the ages of 60 and 84 who were split into two groups and given either a placebo or a monthly vitamin D capsules containing 60,000 IU (international units) each participated in the analysis.
The study excluded people who were already taking more than 500 IU of the vitamin daily, as well as those who had a history of excessive calcium levels, hyperparathyroidism, kidney stones, osteomalacia (a disease marked by the creation of microscopic collections of inflammatory cells), or sarcoidosis (a disease characterized by the proliferation of inflammatory cell clusters).
More than 80% of participants reported taking at least 80% of the study tablets, and treatment lasted an average of five years. During the trial, 1,336 participants experienced a major heart problem (6.6 percent in the placebo group versus 6 percent in the vitamin D group), but the rate of major cardiovascular events was 9 percent lower for those taking vitamin D compared with those getting placebo.
Heart attack rates were 19 percent lower and coronary revascularization rates were 11 percent lower in the vitamin D group. But there was no distinction between the two groups with regard to stroke.
According to Anastassios G. Pittas, MD, head of the endocrinology division at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, “the effect of the dose given to this population was small overall.” However, if you apply this at the broad scale of public health, it may have significant ramifications given the low prices [20 cents per tablet or less] and general safety.
Dr. Pittas observes that 6 out of 1,000 cardiovascular events in this study may have been avoided with vitamin D, although a threshold for a minimum significant difference in reduction is typically 20 to 30 fewer per 1,000.
Researchers found some evidence of a larger benefit in trial participants who were taking statins or other cardiovascular medications at the beginning of the study.
Although the researchers stated that these findings were not statistically significant, Pittas referred to the effect in this demographic as “interesting.”
“People who take statins and cardiovascular drugs are at higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease,” he says.” I think you might argue that people who are at risk may benefit the most from the intervention.”
Why Was Such a High Vitamin D Dose Required?
This study’s dose of 60,000 IU is regarded as high. According to the Mayo Clinic, older persons should consume 600 to 800 IU each day, which equates to up to 24,000 IU per month.
The investigators decided to administer the dose once a month in order to increase adherence. Adherence may increase if a task must be completed once every month as opposed to daily.
Additionally, the scientists were interested in determining what would occur to patients if their vitamin D intake was increased above the advised level.
We may need to administer more D supplement than is recommended when trying to avoid a particular condition, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, adds Pittas. However, in general, it is regarded that taking vitamin D regularly is preferable than taking it seldom since regular exposure to moderate amounts is thought to be more physiologic than irregular exposure to high concentrations.
However, a good thing gone too far can be harmful. Vitamin D poisoning has been linked to daily doses of 60,000 IU for several months, according to Mayo Clinic.
Pittas emphasizes that this particular study cannot be used to generalize anything about the vitamin and the general population. According to Pittas, there is a difference between “treatment” and “supplementation,” and the benefit-to-risk ratio for D vitamin relies on the target demographic, their medical condition, and these factors.
Recognizing Vitamin D Deficiency
While some people can obtain enough vitamin from natural sources, such as certain foods and sunlight, as per UCLA Health and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the National Institutes of Health estimates that approximately 1 in 4 U.S. adults do not.
The following indications and symptoms of D vitamin deficiency are listed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which advises people experiencing them to see a doctor:
- Not sleeping well
- Bone pain or achiness
- Depression or feelings of sadness
- Hair loss
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Getting sick more easily
- Pale skin