Get lots of sunlight. It is the richest source of vitamin D. Also make sure to take a vitamin D supplement if, for some reason or other, you are unable to get enough sun exposure – and most certainly during the winter period. Studies show that lack of vitamin D may lead to heart failure due to insulin resistance, which is an early stage of diabetes. In other words, having too little vitamin D in your blood may impair the heart’s ability to take up blood sugar and that can cause a morbid enlargement of the cardiac muscle. This was seen in an Indian study that is published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research. The scientists see vitamin D as having huge potential in the prevention and treatment of cardiac failure plus insulin resistance and diabetes that is spreading like a bushfire.
It seems that the many warnings against sun exposure have had a downside, as they can easily cause vitamin D deficiencies. Vitamin D has traditionally been associated with bone health, but the vitamin also contributes to gene regulation and a host of metabolic processes. Some of these processes are linked to insulin sensitivity and regulation of inflammation, both of which are involved in the majority of lifestyle diseases ranging from atherosclerosis and diabetes to cancer.
Too little vitamin D may cause heart failure
The heart is a large muscle that contracts approximately 100,000 times every day. For that reason, the heart needs a lot of fuel, preferably in the form of carbohydrate and fat. When we ingest carbohydrates, the pancreas produces insulin, which is a hormone that functions as a key by “unlocking” cells so they can more easily absorb carbohydrate in the form of blood sugar (glucose). Insulin resistance is when the cellular glucose uptake is impaired because the cells fail to respond properly to the insulin, and that causes an energy shortage. Insulin resistance is particularly challenging for the hard-working heart muscle.
The new Indian study reveals that lack of vitamin D can lead to heart failure, and the scientists believe this is due to insulin resistance, because studies have shown that animals with low blood levels of vitamin D tend to have insulin resistance in the heart muscle.
To study whether lack of vitamin D can cause damage to the heart in a manner similar to other risk factors such as excessive intake of calories, fructose, and trans-fatty acids, the researchers set up a study of rats.
The animals were divided into three groups that got different diets:
- One group got a diet with plenty of vitamin D
- One group got a diet that caused vitamin D deficiency
- One group got a diet with a lot of fat and fructose
After 20 weeks, the scientists observed heart failure in the vitamin D-depleted rats. They also noted that the molecular and functional changes in the hearts were similar to the changes that they observed in the rats that consumed high quantities of fat and fructose. In other words, lack of vitamin D is every bit as harmful for the heart as eating a diet that contains a lot of fat and fructose. The vitamin D-deficient rats also had more inflammation in the heart tissue, which sets the stage for oxidative stress and atherosclerosis.
Lack of vitamin D thickens the heart
Vitamin D is known to control around 10 percent of our genes, and the scientists actually found the genes that are involved in the enlargement of the heart muscle. Their results were confirmed when they measured the thickness of the heart wall, the inner diameter of the heart cambers, and the heart’s ability to contract.
It turned out that the wall in the left heart chamber was thicker in the rats that lacked vitamin D. This happens when the heart works under increased pressure, and the condition, if left untreated, becomes pathologic and life-threatening. The problem is that the thickened heart is unable to pump sufficient amounts of blood to the different tissues, which is otherwise necessary for fueling all the metabolic processes.
Large potential for treating heart failure
The Indian scientists on an earlier occasion studied a South-Indian population group and found that lack of vitamin D was related to diabetes and coronary artery disease. The researchers, however, were unable to find a causal relationship.
According to Dr. Sanjay Kumar Banerjee, the scientists with their rat study have now managed to reveal the closer relation. Their understanding of how vitamin D affects the insulin resistance of the heart may therefore improve the treatment of heart failure, simply because they are now able to aim their therapy towards the activation of the heart’s vitamin D receptors.
Huge potential for the prevention of insulin resistance and diabetes
Although the sun has much more power in India and shines substantially more than in other places, many Indian people still lack vitamin D. According to Dr. Sanjay Kumar Banerjee, he and his team of scientists have now demonstrated that lack of vitamin D increases the risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, and heart failure.
Both previous and current studies show that vitamin D supplements help improve insulin sensitivity, which improves the body’s blood sugar regulation, thereby ensuring the required energy for the heart.
Health authorities should take note of this, the scientists say, because insulin resistance and metabolic disorders such as diabetes already constitute a huge health challenge in India.
These problems also apply to the rest of the world because more and more people avoid the sun and become vitamin D-deficient. At the same time, diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions.
How do we get enough vitamin D?
Our main source of vitamin D is the sun during the summer period, but the amount of vitamin D that we store in the liver is often limited, and the diet only contributes with limited quantities. Many scientists claim that the recommended level for vitamin D is far below our actual need. Supplements are available on the market with levels that typically lie in the range of 20-80 micrograms. Our need for the nutrient hinges on such factors as sun exposure, skin type, BMI, and pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and other chronic ailments. Because vitamin D is lipid-soluble, we are best able to absorb and utilize vitamin D in an oil-based formula in gelatin capsules. Moreover, we need magnesium to activate the vitamin.
Dinesh C Sharma. Indian scientist show how Vitamin D deficiency can cause heart failure. BusinessLine, Science, 2019
Qi Dai el al. Abstract CT093: Bimodal relationship between magnesium supplementation and vitamin D status and metabolism: Results from randomized trial. Cancer Research July 2018
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