Key nutrient improves your chances of surviving a heart attack or stroke

You hear a lot about the importance of vitamin D during the winter months. But you really need vitamin D all year long. Keeping your levels adequate (or, better yet–optimal) can mean the difference between life and death–literally. In fact, a new German study found that men and women with low vitamin D are far more likely to die following a heart attack or stroke.

I’ll tell you more about that important study in a moment. But first, a little background…

Vitamin D regulates nearly 400 genes in the body. And some experts believe it acts more like a hormone than a nutrient. This may help explain why it reduces your risk of developing so many different diseases–from cancer to multiple sclerosis. It’s also important for bone health and mental health. It helps keep blood pressure at normal levels. And it even shrinks painful uterine fibroids in women.

The latest findings about vitamin D relate to cardiovascular disease (CVD), the most common health problem of our time. Of course, previous studies established a connection between low vitamin D and cardiovascular disease. However, in these earlier studies, researchers typically took just one blood sample to test for vitamin D. And they didn’t look at the differences between fatal and non-fatal CVD events. In other words, they just looked at the number of cardiovascular events overall. They didn’t look at who died. And, just as important, who didn’t die.

The latest German study is much stronger because researchers measured vitamin D levels at three different times. And they looked at the differences between who died and who didn’t die after suffering a heart attack or stroke.

For the study, researchers followed a cohort of nearly 10,000 adults ages 50 to 74 years for over 10 years. They measured the amount of vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D, or 25-OH-D) in the participants’ blood at the outset of the study. Then, they measured it again after five years. And one last time after eight years.

They found that 59 percent of women and men in the study had inadequate vitamin D levels. The researchers defined “inadequate” as anything lower than 50 nanomoles per liter.

Over the next 10 years, 854 participants had a non-fatal CVD event. (Four-hundred sixty of them suffered non-fatal heart attacks. And 313 had non-fatal strokes.) But 176 participants had a fatal CVD event. (There were 79 fatal heart attacks. And 41 fatal strokes.)

Overall, men and women with low vitamin D levels had a 27 percent greater risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

But here’s the kicker for your ticker…

Their CVD events were far more likely to kill them. In fact, men and women with low vitamin D increased their risk of suffering a fatal heart attack or stroke by a whopping 62 percent! By comparison, men and women with adequate levels of vitamin D were much more likely to survive their heart attack or stroke.

Of course, there are several ways to look at these findings.

First off, perhaps low vitamin D leads to more severe CVD events, when they occur. Or perhaps low vitamin D somehow reduces your ability to survive such events when they occur. We also know that low vitamin D is associated with other conditions–such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and poor health overall. Perhaps this association lowers your ability to survive a CVD event.

What does all this mean for you?

Clearly, you need to maintain optimal vitamin D levels year-round. Of course, at this time of year, if you live north of Atlanta in the U.S., the sun’s rays aren’t strong enough to support your body’s own production of vitamin D. No matter how much time you spend outside.

So you need to take a vitamin D supplement. I recommend one that gives you 5,000 IU per day of vitamin D. Overall, studies indicate this amount to be a good general recommendation.


1. “Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D and Incidence of Fatal and Nonfatal Cardiovascular Events: A Prospective Study With Repeated Measurements,” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, December 2013; 98(12):