Experts say vitamin D won’t improve cardiovascular health, but it can strengthen bones and improve overall health.
The benefits of regular vitamin D consumption has received a lot of attention in recent years.
Among the health improvements associated with this nutrient are better bone development and a stronger immune function.
But new research has concluded that a lower risk of heart disease isn’t among the vitamin’s many benefits.
The analysis of previous studies states that vitamin D doesn’t help prevent cardiovascular disease.
However, experts who spoke to Healthline emphasize the vitamin is still an essential part of a healthy diet.
Vitamin D provides a broad range of benefits including building healthy bones, regulating sugar metabolism, and maintaining a healthy brain and nervous system.
Due to many recent studies that found vitamin D supplementation doesn’t affect heart health, researchers at Michigan State University decided to combine the results of 21 randomized clinical trials with a total of 83,000 participants to find if there really isn’t any cardiovascular benefit.
This type of study is called a meta-analysis, a research method that can provide a more precise estimate of the effect of a treatment or risk factor for disease than any individual study.
“The use of vitamin D supplements has been increased substantially in the last few years in the United States and there was a belief that it could have some cardiovascular benefit. Multiple randomized trials have been published recently about vitamin D and cardiovascular disease,” Mahmoud Barbarawi, MD, a clinical instructor at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine and lead study author, told Healthline.
“This is why we decided to conduct a meta-analysis with enough power to clarify if vitamin D does or does not have a protective effect on cardiovascular health,” he added.
Dr. Barbarawi said that while vitamin D has been found ineffective as a potential strategy to prevent cardiovascular diseases by other researchers, the results of that research had too many variables.
“This meta-analysis is very important to provide the most recent information about any cardiovascular benefit vitamin D may have,” he said.
After analyzing the data from previous studies, the research team’s results “showed no cardiovascular and mortality benefit of vitamin D that contradict the general prevalent concept from previous research,” Barbarawi said.
Sreenivas Gudimetla, MD, a cardiologist at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth, agreed with the study’s conclusions.
“With the exception of bone health, there is no direct study data that definitively concludes that vitamin D has other significant health benefits,” Dr. Gudimetla told Healthline.
This doesn’t mean that vitamin D supplementation has no role in maintaining health.
Vitamin D deficiency was once the cause of a bone development disorder called rickets (osteomalacia) that affected children in the 19th and early 20th century.
The ailment causes bone to soften and develop improperly and can also cause cramps, seizures, and breathing problems. It’s still an issue in developing countries.
According to Barbarawi, while vitamin D supplementation shouldn’t be taken for the purpose of preventing cardiovascular disease, there are reasons for some people to use it.
“This does not mean that patients should not take it if they need it to improve their low vitamin D levels,” he said, “as this will help to maintain good calcium levels and prevent diseases that include osteoporosis, osteomalacia, and chronic kidney disease.”
But according to Mark Peterman, MD, a cardiologist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, the nutrient may still benefit cardiovascular health indirectly.
“Vitamin D has positive effects on bone health and quality of life, in so much as these facilitate an active lifestyle, cardiovascular health should also improve,” Dr. Peterman told Healthline.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 12 children in the United States has asthma.
Findings from a 2017 study suggest that being vitamin D deficient could significantly increase a child’s risk of developing asthma.
“The move over the last 100 years from most people working outdoors to most staying indoors and the adoption of sunscreens to prevent skin cancers has magnified the problem of vitamin D deficiency despite supplementation in milk and bread,” Peterman said.
Further research conducted on 560 children in Puerto Rico ages 6 to 14 and living with asthma found that those deficient in vitamin D were two and a half times more at risk of having worsened symptoms.
Vitamin D may even help prevent children with asthma from experiencing attacks due to air pollution, according to recently published research.
“Asthma is an immune-mediated disease,” Sonali Bose, MD, assistant professor of medicine, pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and lead author of the study, said in a statement.
“From previous studies, we knew that vitamin D was a molecule that may influence asthma by impacting antioxidant or immune-related pathways,” Dr. Bose said.
“It’s believed that vitamin D may have a role in improving immune responses and even levels of parathyroid hormone,” he said.
Gudimetla said the best way to get vitamin D for optimal health is through a health-conscious diet.
“A diet with a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, and even certain oils is recommended by the National Institutes of Health,” he said.
He emphasized that certain proteins such as fatty fish, lean meats, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, nuts and seeds, and soy products are a great way to get sufficient amounts of this vitamin.
Gudimetla cautions that while vitamin D may not directly prevent cardiovascular disease, watching what you eat can.
“Being wise about dietary choices is important, like limiting foods that are high in saturated or trans fats and monitoring calories and salt intake,” he said.
Previously recommended as a vitamin that could prevent heart disease and stroke, recent research finds no association between taking vitamin D supplements and lowering the incidence of cardiovascular disease.
However, vitamin D has many other health benefits and can still improve heart health indirectly by optimizing bone and immune health.
Experts say the best way to get vitamin D is by eating a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy.