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MONDAY, Nov. 16 (HealthDay News) -- If your levels of vitamin D are too low, you may be at significantly increased risk for stroke, heart disease and death, a new study suggests.
Researchers followed 27,686 people, aged 50 and older, with no history of cardiovascular disease. The participants were divided into three groups based on their vitamin D levels: normal (more than 30 nanograms per milliliter), low (15 to 30 nanograms per milliliter), or very low (less than 15 nanograms per milliliter).
After one year of follow-up, those with very low levels of vitamin D were 77 percent more likely to die, 45 percent more likely to develop coronary artery disease and 78 percent more likely to have a stroke, and twice as likely to develop heart failure compared to people with normal vitamin D levels, the researchers found.
"We concluded that among patients 50 years of age or older, even a moderate deficiency of vitamin D levels was associated with developing coronary artery disease, heart failure, stroke and death," study co-author Heidi May, an epidemiologist with the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, said in a news release from the center.
"This is important because vitamin D deficiency is easily treated. If increasing levels of vitamin D can decrease some risk associated with these cardiovascular diseases, it could have a significant public health impact. When you consider that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in America, you understand how this research can help improve the length and quality of people's lives," May added.
Because this was an observational study, a definitive link between vitamin D levels and heart disease couldn't be established, but the findings point to the need for further research, said study co-author Dr. Brent Muhlestein, director of cardiovascular research at Intermountain's Heart Institute.
"We believe the findings are important enough to now justify randomized treatment trials of supplementation in patients with vitamin D deficiency to determine for sure whether it can reduce the risk of heart disease," Muhlestein said in the news release.
The study was to be presented Monday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Vitamin D is obtained from sunlight and by consuming fatty fish or fortified dairy products, including milk.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about vitamin D.