A few weeks ago my husband and I were visiting with our family doctor and the subject of vitamin D came up.  Both of our levels were below 30.  This was startling, because 3 years ago I was low and took mega doses to get it back up; but since I hadn’t followed through, it fell again — this time even lower than before.

Some recommendations say the optimum levels are between 45-50 mcg; other recommendations aim for 50-70 mcg.  By any scale, we were “lowly” (as Grandma would have said).

Maybe Vitamin D is the vitamin flavor of the month, but there does seem to be good reasons for it. A recent study from Denmark suggests that keeping our levels up is definitely good for your heart.  It finds that people with low levels of vitamin D have a 64% higher risk of heart disease, 81% higher risk of death from heart disease, and a 57% higher risk of early death.

The Copenhagen Heart Study involved more than 10,000 Danes and was conducted from 1981-1983.  Participants were tracked up to the present on a registry.  It involved comparing the vitamin D levels of people with the 5% lowest levels with the 50% at the highest level.

“There is a strong statistical correlation between a low level of vitamin D and a high risk of heart disease and early death,” says Dr. Peter Brondum-Jacobsen of Copenhagen University Hospital.

I am particularly taken with this study, because it is a major population study in a northern climate.  We are supposed to get our vitamin D from the sun, but 75% of American teens and adults are deficient, just like me.  That means we have too little vitamin D circulating in our blood to protect our health. Sun exposure, diet, skin color, and obesity also play a part in affecting vitamin D levels. According to Scientific American Magazine, low levels of vitamin D can also be associated with autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, and some cancers.

Being a research junkie, I found the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University to be among the best sites for extended reading, even for non-science types like me. Following their recommendations and those of our physician, my husband and I started taking 4,000 IU (international units) of D3 a day to jump start our levels and intend to level out at 2,000 IU daily as recommended by the Linus Pauling Institute.  While this is well above the government guidelines, it is in the safe zone of dosage.

In terms of food, some fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel and cod liver oil are among the best sources.  If you take a tablet supplement, D3 has the best absorption rate, and many suggest the drops are even better.

Next step?

If you don’t know your vitamin D level, consult with your doctor. It may be because it’s a test that is not automatically ordered with your regular blood work.  It tends to be a little more expensive.  Chances are, you have to ask.

It’s a good place to start.

Remember, if I can do it, so can you.

Susan Levy
Publisher, Well-Fed Heart

This week’s featured recipe:

  Pan-Asian Salmon with Bok Choy and Shitakes