People who don’t get enough vitamin D run the risk of heart problems and premature death, researchers believe.
The Copenhagen City Heart Study, which examines the effects of vitamin D on the body, began more than 30 years ago.
Between 1981 and 1983 researchers took vitamin D samples from 10,000 people. The participants continue to be monitored until they die.
During 29 years of follow-up, 3,100 people developed heart disease, 1,625 suffered a heart attack and 6,747 died.
What they found was that ischemic heart disease was more common in participants’ whose vitamin D levels were low at the beginning of the study.
"We have now examined the association between a low level of vitamin D and ischemic heart disease and death in the largest study to date," Dr. Peter Brøndum-Jacobsen, Clinical Biochemical Department, Copenhagen University Hospital said in a release from the hospital.
"We observed that low levels of vitamin D compared to optimal levels are linked to 40 percent higher risk of ischemic heart disease, 64 percent higher risk of heart attack, 57 percent higher risk of early death, and to no less than 81% higher risk of death from heart disease," he said.
Too many in Finland don't get enough
According to experts, a large segment of the population don’t get enough vitamin D in Finland, where sunlight is in short supply much of the year.
The scientists are now working to determine whether the connection between a low level of vitamin D and the risk of heart disease is a genuine causal relationship.
If this is the case, it will potentially have a massive influence on the health of the world population. Heart disease is the most common cause of adult death in the world according to the World Health Organisation, which estimates that at least 17 million people die every year from heart disease.
"The cheapest and easiest way to get enough vitamin D is to let the sun shine on your skin at regular intervals," Copenhagen University Professor Børge Nordestgaard said in the release.
"There is plenty of evidence that sunshine is good, but it is also important to avoid getting sunburned, which increases the risk of skin cancer. Diet with a good supply of vitamin D is also good, but it has not been proven that vitamin D as a dietary supplement prevents heart disease and death," he said.