9 Healthy Foods That Are High in Vitamin D
Safe Ways to Get Vitamin D for Your Heart
The "sunshine" vitamin may protect against heart attacks and strokes, but you can have too much of a good thing. Talk to your doctor about how much D you need and the best sources for you.
By Beth W. Orenstein
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Helping the body absorb calcium needed for building strong bones is just one of vitamin D’s key jobs. It can also protect your heart. Men who took up to 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily had a 16 percent lower risk of developing heart disease than men who took less than 100 IU a day, according to research led by Harvard scientists. They didn’t find the same benefits for women, though. Before you rush to take vitamin D for heart health, know its cardiovascular benefits may be limited and too much may even be dangerous.
Conflicting Information on Vitamin D for Heart Health
A recent study published in theAmerican Journal of Cardiologyfound adults with vitamin D blood levels above 21 nanograms per milliliter — a value in the lower range of normal — could face agreaterrisk of developing cardiovascular disease. The researchers, from Johns Hopkins University, looked at data from more than 15,000 adults and saw those with very low levels of vitamin D in their blood had increased levels of C- reactive protein (CRP), a protein that signals inflammation. This sign of inflammation decreased when vitamin D levels increased to low normal levels. But as levels of vitamin D rose beyond this low-normal level, CRP rose again, putting people at greater risk for inflammation, which can cause blood vessels to stiffen and lead to heart attack and stroke.
So what’s the answer? Unfortunately, the jury is still out on the role of vitamin D in preventing heart disease, says JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH, chief of the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a professor of women’s health at Harvard Medical School, and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies panel that recently revised its recommendations for the so-called sunshine vitamin (your body can make it on its own if you get enough sun exposure). “The panel concluded that the evidence is inconsistent and inconclusive, and that people should not be taking vitamin D with an expectation that it will improve their overall hearth health,” Dr. Manson says.
Getting a Safe Amount of Vitamin D
How much vitamin D is safe? The recommended amounts =vary depending on your age. After reviewing the data in 2010, the Institute of Medicine raised its daily recommendations for the amount of vitamin D to these levels:
- 600 IU for all people between 1 and 70
- 800 IU for those who are 71 and older
- 400 IU for those under one year old (the amount that the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended since 2008)
What’s the maximum safe amount of vitamin D? The Institute of Medicine also raised its daily safe vitamin D recommendations to:
- 1,500 IU for infants 6 to 12 months
- 2,500 IU children 1 to 3 years old
- 3,000 IU for children 4 to 8 years old
- 4,000 IU for anyone 9 years and older
“But more is not necessarily better,” says Manson. “There has been some concern about a U-shaped curve, where people who have low and high levels of vitamin D in their blood are at increased risk of heart disease. Some of the risk from high levels has been attributed to calcifications in the blood vessels, a buildup that blocks blood flow and leads to heart attacks and stroke."
Where to Get Vitamin D
The sun is a good source of vitamin D — you can get 80 to 90 percent of the vitamin D you need from just a few minutes in the sun each day. But you should never overdo sun exposure to get more vitamin D because the sun’s UV rays can increase your risk for skin cancer. “The Institute of Medicine committee did not recommend increasing sun exposure to increase your vitamin D level,” says Manson.
You may be able to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from food. Good sources of vitamin D include dark, fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel, and a variety of products fortified with vitamin D. Read labels to find fortified dairy products, juices, and cereals.
“If you have lactose intolerance and avoid dairy products, don’t eat fish, or are 70 or older, you may need supplements to get 800 IUs a day,” Manson says. But it doesn’t have to be a high-dose supplement. A combination of diet and a supplement that has calcium with vitamin D will do it, she says.
But before you start popping vitamin D supplements, ask your doctor if any medications you’re taking could react negatively with the supplements, says Amir Hedayati, MD, a cardiologist at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles. Though vitamin D is important for your health, he says, you want to make sure that increasing vitamin D is in no way harmful to you. Your doctor can also check the vitamin D level in your blood and tell you how much you really need.
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