Constitutional Health Network:
Can Vitamin D Mend a “Broken” Heart?

In a stunning “I told you so” moment for those of us who champion dietary supplements and nutritional healing, researchers have found that vitamin D supplements improve heart function in patients with heart failure. Like so much of the amazing research in the past couple years, this study comes out of the UK, this time from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

The media is, of course, downplaying the significance of the study. The American media in particular seems unimpressed. And the medical establishment — other than the researchers running the study — is not surprisingly pulling the old “Well, we need more research” card. But here’s the thing: this study IS the “more research.” It simply reinforces what several other studies have shown in the past. Studies which — you guessed it — were greeted by “we need more research.”

It’s inexpensive, readily available, and this study shows it works

Heart failure and heart attack are sometimes confused, but they’re not the same thing. In a heart attack, some of the heart muscle is starved of oxygen and dies. The prognosis depends on how much of the heart is damaged. Most heart attack victims, if they survive the initial episode and make some lifestyle changes, can go on to have a long and perfectly normal life.

In a stunning “I told you so” moment for those of us who champion dietary supplements and nutritional healing, researchers have found that vitamin D supplements improve heart function in patients with heart failure. Like so much of the amazing research in the past couple years, this study comes out of the UK, this time from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

With heart failure, the entire heart becomes weak. It loses the ability to pump blood effectively. Insufficient circulation causes fluid buildup in the tissues, which leads to other problems. Poor circulation keeps oxygen from reaching cells in sufficient amounts, which results in shortness of breath and fatigue. Most heart failure patients end up on oxygen. The five-year survival rate for heart failure patients is a dismal fifty percent.

In this study, researchers looked at 223 heart failure patients, all of whom were deficient in vitamin D. They split them into a placebo group, who got a sugar pill, and a treatment group who were given 100 mcg of vitamin D3. The participants took their respective pills for an entire year.

The study had two goals. The first was to increase the distance participants could walk in six minutes. This didn’t happen. Supplementation didn’t increase their ability to exercise. The other goal, however, was to improve the heart’s ability to pump. At this, it succeeded very well.

At the beginning of the trial, the participants’ hearts were pumping slightly more than a third as much blood as a healthy heart. By the end of the trial, the treatment group’s output had increased by over 7.5 percent, while the placebo group had only improved by slightly over 1 percent. In Big Pharma Land, this would be called a rousing success.

If this were a drug, it would be the next blockbuster

Seven percent may not sound like much, but for a person whose heart is only pumping a third of what it should, seven percent could literally be the difference between life and death. According to the lead researcher on the project — this is comparable to the most expensive heart failure drugs on the market right now.

That’s probably why this isn’t big news.

Because let’s face it: if this were a new drug, we’d be hearing all about it. If it had a fancy name like Ataminde or Felnoma and the power of Merck or Eli Lilly behind it, you can bet that guidelines would be in the works recommending that all heart failure patients take it. And we’d be paying a thousand dollars per month for it.

But it doesn’t have a fancy name. And it doesn’t have a Big Pharma name behind it. Humble vitamin D costs less than $10 per bottle and is available at every pharmacy, health food store, and even discount stores. It’s everywhere. And no one is going to tweak it by one molecule then sell it back to us for hundreds of dollars like they did with the “prescription” fish oil. Thank goodness.

So instead the study is getting buried, like so many others that find a benefit in supplements. Critics are pointing to the fact that it didn’t improve exercise capacity. And instead of recommending that patients add this cheap, easily-obtained supplement to their existing drug regimen, they’re simply saying “more research.”

Bah humbug. Here are the three important takeaways from the study: the participants all had a vitamin D deficiency. They also had heart failure. When the vitamin deficiency was at least somewhat corrected, their hearts got stronger.

And here’s a question nobody's asking: if they’d been given higher doses, would they have improved even more?

Should you be taking vitamin D?

The U.S. Food and Nutrition Board says that adults only need 600 IU of vitamin D per day, or 15 mcg. The Endocrine Society says 1,500 to 2,000. The Vitamin D Council recommends 5,000 IU or 100 mcg, which is the amount used in the study. However, with proper sun exposure, our own bodies can make 10,000 to 25,000 IU per day. That’s a huge difference. Does it mean we should all be supplementing with that much vitamin D each day?

No. Vitamin D is one vitamin that really can have adverse effects if you overdose. And since it’s fat-soluble rather than water-soluble, it’s difficult to get rid of the excess. Both the Vitamin D Council and the Endocrine Society set the safe upper limit at 10,000 IU daily, so it’s a wise idea to stay under that limit.

It’s estimated that some 70% of the population is either clinically deficient in vitamin D or has “suboptimal” levels, and a deficiency can contribute to a huge variety of health problems. However, the symptoms, if you even have any, are very vague and the only way to know for sure if you’re deficient is to have your levels tested. You can have this done at your doctor’s office or, if you don’t want to visit your doctor, you can order a test kit online.

I strongly recommend that everyone get their vitamin D levels checked at least every few years. If you’re deficient, supplementing can help you avoid a variety of issues. And if you have heart failure, it might just save your heart.

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