Will vitamin D protect your heart?

Letter D made out of vitaminsDo I need to take vitamin D to protect my heart?

Victoria Taylor says: 

Vitamin D helps protect our bones and muscles. A deficiency leads to softening of the bones (rickets or osteomalacia). It has also been suggested that low levels of vitamin D could be linked to chronic diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and heart and circulatory disease. The BHF has funded research in this area.

Guidance on how much vitamin D we should consume have just been reviewed. Recommendations have now been changed, based on bone and muscle health, as not enough evidence exists to draw conclusions regarding chronic diseases. A 2015 Scottish study, part-funded by the BHF, showed that although having low levels of vitamin D is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the low vitamin D is a result of lifestyle factors that increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, rather than the cause of increased risk.

Low levels of vitamin D could be linked to chronic diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and heart and circulatory disease

The new advice recommends everyone aged four and above take 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day.

Previously, this was only for certain groups, including people over 65 and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Although sunlight is a source of vitamin D, there were too many variables to say how much we produce in this way, so the advice now assumes we don’t get much sun.

So what does this mean for our diets? During spring and summer eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting out in the sunshine for short periods should be all we need to get enough vitamin D. But if you don’t eat many foods that contain vitamin D, consider taking a supplement in autumn and winter. Vitamin D is found naturally in oily fish, red meat, liver and egg yolks, and is added to foods like breakfast cereals and fat spreads. A 140g piece of baked salmon contains 10.2 micrograms, a bowl of fortified branflakes has 1.5 micrograms and an egg has 1.9 micrograms.

Some people don’t get out in the sun, even in spring and summer, or always cover their skin when they do. If this is you, a vitamin D supplement throughout the year might be advisable. If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor or dietitian.

Victoria Taylor

Meet the expert

Victoria Taylor is a registered dietitian with more than ten years’ experience. Her work for the NHS focused on weight management and community programmes for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. At the BHF she advises on diet and nutrition.

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