Low levels of 'sunlight' vitamin raise heart risk
LACK of vitamin D has been blamed for everything from weakened bones to rickets, but now a study has revealed it increases the risk of a heart attack.
The research, conducted in the United States, could have major implications for Scotland – a country keen to shake off its "sick man of Europe" title with one of the world's worst records on cardiovascular disease.
The study looked at1,739 patients, all children of original participants in the Framingham Heart Study, a major investigation of heart disease risk factors launched in 1948.
Scientists found that people with low blood levels of vitamin D were 62 per cent more likely to suffer heart failure, heart attack or stroke than those with higher levels, even after adjusting for risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Dr Thomas Wang, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, who led the research, said: "Having high blood pressure and a vitamin D deficiency doubled the risk of a cardiovascular event.
"A growing body of evidence suggests that low levels of vitamin D may adversely affect the cardiovascular system.
The five-year study found a dose-dependent effect, with the risk of cardiovascular events increasing as vitamin D levels fell. People with blood levels of the vitamin below 15 nanograms per millilitre were twice as likely to suffer an event as people with higher levels.
Vitamin D is mainly manufactured in the body by the action of sunlight on the skin, although food sources include milk, eggs and oily fish. It is vital for maintaining strong bones and severe deficiency can lead to the bone deformity rickets in children.
There are fears that people living in northern countries such as Scotland and Scandinavia get too little sunlight and produce too little vitamin D.
Heart disease remains Scotland's second-biggest killer, accounting for around 17 per cent of deaths, followed by stroke with 10 per cent.
Last night Carina Norris, a nutritionist based in Fife, said the study was pertinent, given Scotland's track record on heart disease. "In Scotland, we just don't get the intensity of sunlight for our bodies to manufacture its own vitamin D," she said.
Although it is a disease often associated with Victorian slums, it seems that rickets might be making a comeback in Scotland. Doctors in Tayside have seen a number of cases recently.
Earlier this year, experts called for the NHS to make sure women were given information on vitamin D supplements to avoid the problem.
HEART disease death rates in Scotland remain among the worst in Europe despite increased efforts to combat ill-health.
In December 2006 the Scottish Executive, in its first report on efforts to improve the nation's wellbeing, outlined the progress made towards putting the country's health on a par with the best in Europe.
While death rates are falling in Scotland, they are still far higher than in countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.
Coronary heart disease is a leading cause of death in Scotland – (9,532 deaths in 2006). The country has one of the highest death rates from CHD in the western world and this has been attributed to high rates of smoking, poor diet and deprivation.
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