|Vitamin D and Your Heart |
Vitamin D and Your Heart
It’s estimated that up to half of middle-aged to elderly
Americans don’t get enough vitamin D. People with
low levels of vitamin D have higher risks of developing
breast, prostate and colon cancer, cognitive decline,
osteoporosis and auto-immune diseases such as multiple
sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes. And
now recent studies suggest that a lack of vitamin D may
be a new trigger for cardiovascular disease, especially in
people who also have hypertension and diabetes.
Inadequate sun exposure from living in northern
latitudes, darkly pigmented skin and eating foods low
in vitamin D are thought to be the causes. Here in
Connecticut, we spend most of our time indoors or in
cars with clothes covering most of our body. When we
do go outside, we apply sunscreen to protect our bodies
from the threat of skin cancer.
Researchers are now paying attention again to the
“sunshine vitamin” that had taken a backseat ever since
rickets, a bone-crippling disease caused by low levels of
vitamin D that was rampant in children 100 years ago,
practically disappeared. Seems like our mothers and
grandmothers were right when they insisted on us taking
a teaspoon of that horrible tasting cod liver oil (high in
vitamins D, A, and omega 3 fatty acids) and spending
a half-hour in the sunshine every day! Our current
lifestyles have moved most of us indoors, but our need
for vitamin D still exists.
How do I know if I need more vitamin D?
Vitamin D deficiency (lack) is easy to screen for and
treat through a routine blood test. Blood levels of vitamin
D that are 30-40 nanograms per milliliter or higher
are considered optimal (best). In the United States,
Caucasians currently average 18-22 nanograms/ml and
African Americans average 13-15 nanograms. Ask your
physician if he or she thinks you should be tested. If
your levels are low, your physician will recommend a
supplement dosage based on your medical needs. While
it is tempting to buy vitamin D over the counter, and
self-prescribe, it is a fat soluble vitamin and can be
toxic in large doses. It is best to ask your physician for
guidance as he or she can monitor your levels as you
take the supplement. The current recommended dosage
from the Institute of Medicine is 400 IU for adults
aged 50-70 and 600 IU for those older than 70. These
recommended levels are being reevaluated and may
soon be increased based on current research.
Why do I need vitamin D?
Every tissue in the body needs vitamin D. Your heart,
brain, immune system and muscles all have receptors for
vitamin D. In terms of heart health, the researchers who
followed 1,739 Framingham Offspring Study participants
concluded that moderate to severe vitamin D deficiency
was associated with an increased risk for developing
cardiovascular disease. This was especially true for those
with hypertension. Another study found that calcium
supplementation without vitamin D led to an increased
incidence of heart attacks.
Where do we get vitamin D?
- Food: Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D.
Out of those that do, the best sources of vitamin D
include salmon (especially wild-caught), mackerel,
cod, tuna canned in water, sardines canned in oil
and the vitamin D-fortified foods such as milk,
some orange juices and ready-to-eat cereals. Whole,
low-fat and skim milk all contain the same amount
of vitamin D, but skim milk is more heart-healthy
as it is lower in saturated fats.
- Sun: The sun is considered the best natural source.
Depending on the intensity and the time of year,
it is estimated that anywhere from 5-30 minutes
of exposure per day is adequate. The skin absorbs
ultraviolet B rays from the sun and converts them
into pre-vitamin D. The liver then changes this to
25-hydroxyvitamin D, which is the main form
that circulates in the blood. The kidneys then take
this form and convert it into a hormone called
- Supplements: Vitamin D is found in daily vitamins,
calcium supplements and on its own. Your doctor
can help you determine how much you should have
daily. Prescription variations depend on your blood
levels, lifestyle, medical problems, age and skin color.
What should I do?
- Ask your physician about having your
vitamin D levels tested.
- Try to eat 10 ounces of fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel and trout) per week.
- Drink 2-3 glasses of skim milk fortified with vitamin D per day.
- Continue to use sunscreen when in the sun. Apply liberally and often.
Four 4-oz. servings
Please note: This is a small portion–4 ounces per person!
If you eat a larger portion please increase the calories and
nutrient calculations accordingly. To cut down on the
sodium, rinse the green olives or cut them out completely.
Capers are also high in sodium, so use sparingly if you
are on a low-sodium diet.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 medium Italian plum tomatoes, diced
- 6 medium black olives, coarsely chopped
- 6 medium green olives, coarsely chopped
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons coarsely or finely chopped fresh parsley (Italian, or flat-leaf, preferred)
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
- 1 1/2 teaspoons jarred minced garlic or 3 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- Pepper to taste
- 1 lb. salmon fillet
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and
swirl to coat bottom of skillet. Add tomatoes, black and
green olives, lemon juice, parsley, capers, garlic and
pepper; stir to mix. Bring to a boil over medium-high
heat, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook
until mixture is reduced by about one third, about
5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, rinse salmon and pat dry with paper towels.
Using a spoon, push reduced sauce to one side and place
salmon in skillet. Spoon sauce over salmon. Cook, covered,
over medium heat for 15 to 17 minutes, or until
salmon flakes easily when tested with a fork.
Nutritional Information (per 4 oz.serving)
200 calories, 9 g total fat, 59 mg cholesterol, 308 mg sodium,
5g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 24 g protein.
This recipe is reprinted with permission from the American Heart
Association Meals in Minutes Cookbook, Copyright © 2002 by
the American Heart Association. Published by Clarkson Potter/
Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.
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