Vitamin D levels in childhood may be a key indicator of adult heart health as a long-term research study from the University of Turku (UT) in Finland found a correlation between deficiency of this nutrient and hazardous heart conditions later in life. The study, recently released by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that a shortage of Vitamin D in children and teens often parallels the development of atherosclerosis or a plaque buildup that hardens the arteries as they age. Hardened arteries are linked with a greater risk of heart disease so although they did not prove a direct cause and effect, a boost in the sunshine vitamin intake is a fairly simple way for parents to reduce their children’s cardiovascular risk from an early age.
Over 2,100 Finnish subjects participated in the study, starting with baseline measurements of Vitamin D levels in 1980 when they were between the ages of three and 18. Twenty-seven years later, at ages 30 to 45, researchers revisited the same group to test for atherosclerosis. Participants had to submit to physical exams, which included Vitamin D level testing, exercise, diet,blood pressure, cholesterol levels and smoking. Scientists analyzed the state of the arteries, including the carotid artery, via ultrasound
After controlling for other risk factors in cardiovascular health, such as exercise levels, poor nutritional habits, obesity, smoking and high blood pressure, the team found that those who registered a Vitamin D deficiency as a young child or teen, were more likely to show signs of hardening arteries in their 30s and 4os. A healthy reading for the sunshine vitamin is 30 to 50 nanograms per milliliter. However, the lowest readings came in at less than one-third to one-half of the desired result. The lower the childhood levels, the greater the risk of atherosclerosis, posing increased hazards to their ongoing heart health. In fact, researchers found that the lowest quartile of participants showed almost twice as many cases of hardened arteries than those who ranked higher in the initial testing as a child or teen. However, adult deficiencies of this bone-friendly vitamin, did not similarly relate to cardiovascular risk.
The association of lack of Vitamin D in childhood and heart health later in life is not enough to prove definitive cause-and-effect. Therefore, additional research bears the burden of proving that the low levels of Vitamin D as a child actually have a direct effect on the hardening of the arteries and that the results hold across racial lines Other studies have made similar connections between increased stroke and heart attack risk giving credence to the potential for the correlation to be more than just anecdotal happenstance. However, no conclusive results can be assumed without further testing to confirm any link.
The study indicates that vitamin D deficiency poses a common risk for children around the world. Internal medicine specialist and endocrinologist at UT, Dr. Markus Juonala, the study’s lead author, points out that whether the correlation between hazardous heart conditions and low Vitamin D counts in childhood is clear cut or not, their analysis of the results emphasize the importance of making sure children’s intake of Vitamin D is sufficient to safeguard long-term heart health.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Image courtesy of the writer