Joseph F. McCaffrey MD, FACS


Vitamin D and Heart Attacks

Want an easy way to protect your heart? Get some sun.

More and more reports prove the importance of vitamins for maintaining health.

Most recently, research shows an association between vitamin D levels and the risk of heart attack.

Scientists have noted for some time that heart disease has a higher incidence in northern climates, as well as during the winter and at lower altitudes. These associations suggested a possible role for vitamin D since they describe situations that reduce sun exposure. The body produces copious amounts of vitamin D in response to sunlight.

Dr. Giovannucci and his colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health explored this possible association by checking blood levels of vitamin D in 454 men with severe heart disease and comparing it with the levels in the blood of 900 men without any evidence of heart disease.

Even after correcting for other risk factors such as cholesterol level, high blood pressure, diabetes, omega 3 intake and so forth, men with low levels of vitamin D had an increased risk of heart disease.

This adds another reason to be sure you have adequate levels of vitamin D.

The researchers concluded: “These results further support an important role for vitamin D in myocardial infarction risk. Thus, the present findings add further support that the current dietary requirements of vitamin D need to be increased to have an effect on circulating 25(OH)D [vitamin D] levels substantially large enough for potential health benefits.”

That’s a polite way of saying the FDA needs to get its act together.

Sun exposure maintains healthy vitamin D levels, but be careful.

Under no circumstances should you let yourself get a sunburn. Even if you aren’t burned, too much exposure does damage your skin.

Twenty minutes with about half your body exposed should be enough.

I live in the north and spend much of my time indoors. Getting adequate sun exposure isn’t practical for me. I take about 1000 units of vitamin D a day in the summer. I increase that to a few thousand a day during the winter when I rarely get any sun.

If you want to be certain your levels are adequate, you can have your blood tested. For most people, simply getting some sun and supplementing will do the job.


Giovannucci et al. 25-Hydroxyvitamin D and Risk of Myocardial Infarction in Men: A Prospective Study. Arch Intern Med., 2008;168(11):1174-1180 [link]

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