Low Vitamin D Among Children May Be Linked to Heart Disease Later
New research suggests that young children with low levels of the the “sunshine vitamin” may be at increased risk for developing atherosclerosis, up to 25 years later. Atherosclerosis is a gradual, insidious disease that affects the linings of blood vessels. Over time, it can lead to stiff, narrow vessels with reduced blood flow. Eventually it can result in the development of blood clots that can break free, travel to the heart or brain, and cause heart attack or stroke.
Research has previously demonstrated there’s a link between low levels of vitamin D and a significantly increased risk of stroke and heart attack. Now, researchers in Finland have examined the link between childhood vitamin D levels and the risk of atherosclerosis later in life. They’ve concluded that low vitamin D is bad for future cardiovascular disease risk.
“Our results showed an association between low 25-OH vitamin D levels in childhood and increased occurrence of subclinical atherosclerosis in adulthood,” said study author, Markus Juonala, MD, PhD, of the University of Turku, Finland. “The association was independent of conventional cardiovascular risk factors including serum lipids, blood pressure, smoking, diet, physical activity, obesity indices and socioeconomic status.”
That’s alarming news, because experts say a majority of children around the world have deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a hormone produced in the body through the action of sunlight (ultraviolet radiation) striking bare skin. It’s tricky to advise people to get more sun exposure, though, because most doctors also recognize the link between unbridled sun exposure and increased risk of developing skin cancer. Melanoma, in particular, is an aggressive, potentially deadly form of the disease.
Some experts have advised limited daily exposure of ten to fifteen minutes per day of sunshine, before applying sunscreens and/or protective hats and clothing. Just fifteen minutes of exposure to sunlight in the summer has been shown to be sufficient to boost levels of naturally produced vitamin D to healthy levels. Unfortunately, people with dark skin, the obese, and the elderly, may require additional time to generate adequate vitamin D. Safe dietary supplements are also available. Consider giving your children—and yourself—up to 2,000 IU vitamin D3 daily to ensure everyone’s getting enough of this crucial hormone.
Markus Juonala, Atte Voipio, Katja Pahkala, Jorma S. A. Viikari, Vera Mikkilä, Mika Kähönen, Nina Hutri-Kähönen, Antti Jula, David Burgner, Matthew A. Sabin, Jukka Marniemi, Britt-Marie Loo, Tomi Laitinen, Eero Jokinen, Leena Taittonen, Costan G. Magnussen, Olli T. Raitakari. Childhood 25-OH Vitamin D Levels and Carotid Intima-Media Thickness in Adulthood: The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2015; jc.2014-3944 DOI: 10.1210/jc.2014-3944