Vitamin D is produced when we spend time in the sun, and is therefore known as the “sunshine vitamin.”
Now scientists have revealed that vitamin D3 supplements can help heart failure patients, who are often deficient in the vitamin, to recover from their condition. Researchers at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom undertook a study which ran for 5 years.
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Vitamin D3 of major benefit in heart failure patients
Their findings showed that heart failure patients who will given doses of vitamin D3 on a daily basis displayed improved heart function. The VINDICATE study involved 163 subjects, and showed that those who received vitamin supplements saw their heart action improved by as much as 34%. Patients in the placebo group saw no changes.
Around the world many people have a problem with vitamin D deficiency. The nutrient is vital for the maintenance of healthy teeth and bones, but many people just do not get enough. Those who have ever been to the rainy city of Leeds may realize why the researchers undertook the study there.
Participants were aged 70 on average and displayed low levels of vitamin D even in the summer, when sun exposure should boost levels of the nutrient.
Researchers observe significant improvements
“They do spend less time outside, but the skin’s ability to manufacture vitamin D also gets less effective [with age] and we don’t really understand why that is,” says lead author Dr. Klaus K. Witte in a BBC report.
In cases of heart failure, where the heart is too weak to pump blood, the scientists focused on ejection fraction. The term refers to the amount of blood pumped by the heart with every beat.
This action should be around 60-70% in healthy adults, but those who suffer heart failure only have 25% of the blood in their heart pumped out with every beat. However the introduction of vitamin D supplements boosted ejection fraction from 26% to 34%.
Researchers called the results “stunning” and pointed out the potential benefits of vitamin D pills.
“It’s as cheap as chips, has no side effects and a stunning improvement on people already on optimal medical therapy,” explains Witte. The study author also said that the results are the first that the medical community has seen in the field in 15 years.
Further research needed to assess long-term effects
Witte also explained that vitamin D3 is more effective than vitamin D2. The former is created naturally in the skin and is “more reliable and potent,” whereas the latter is made synthetically and doesn’t have as great an effect on patients.
It is still not clear whether vitamin D deficiency is a cause or a symptom of heart disease.
“[T]he severity of the deficiency relates to the levels of symptoms, exercise capacity, diuretic requirements, and response to optimal medical therapy,” writes the team, which revealed its results at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology.
So impressed were the researchers by the effectiveness of the vitamin D3 supplements, they believe that it could reduce the use of implantable cardioverter debrillator devices. These medical devices are used to detect irregular heart rhythms and provide a shock which brings it back to normal. The devices are expensive and can only be installed during an operation, which is considered risky in older patients.
In response to the study the British Heart Foundation called for further trials designed to determine whether the positive effects of supplementation actually lead to reduced symptoms and longer life expectancy in patients.