Vitamin D may decrease high blood pressure risk
by Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD
High blood pressure, or hypertension, increases the risk of developing heart disease and kidney failure, but these health burdens are not shared equally among all adults. African Americans have much higher rates of all three conditions compared with other ethnic groups, and they also are significantly more likely to have low blood levels of vitamin D. It turns out that addressing this vitamin D disparity may be one way to decrease rates of high blood pressure, and its associated conditions, in those most at risk.
Diminish blood pressure with D
Researchers randomly selected 283 African American adults to receive 1,000; 2,000; or 4,000 IU of vitamin D per day; or a placebo (containing no vitamin D) for three months. The participants’ average age was 51 years, and the study authors measured blood pressure and vitamin D blood levels at baseline, and three months and six months later. The study took place during the winter months—when vitamin D levels tend to be lowest—of 2008 through 2010. Nearly 90% of participants completed the three-month supplementation period, and the researchers observed that systolic (the top number) blood pressure
• decreased an average of 0.66 in 1,000 IU group,
• decreased an average of 3.4 in the 2,000 IU group, and
• decreased an average of 4.0 in the 4,000 IU group, and
• increased an average of 1.7 points (mm Hg) in the placebo group.
There were no differences in diastolic (the bottom number) blood pressure between the groups.
Small blood pressure changes, big health gains
This study, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial—the gold standard of medical research—demonstrated a small, but significant, benefit of vitamin D supplementation on blood pressure in African Americans. A four-point decrease may not seem like much, but it can make a big difference in health. So this finding suggests that an inexpensive vitamin D supplement may spare millions from some of the harmful health consequences of high blood pressure.
Our tips can help you put these results in perspective, and enhance your own cardiovascular health and wellness:
•Know the skin you’re in. Skin pigment acts as a “natural sunblock,” decreasing the body’s ability to make vitamin D with sun exposure. If you have dark skin, you may be more likely to come up short on vitamin D.
•Get tested. Ask your doctor for a vitamin D blood test. If you’re low, develop a plan to bring vitamin D levels back to normal. This may require taking large doses of vitamin D for a few weeks, followed by lower doses for the long-term.
•Don’t be silent. High blood pressure is often called, “the silent killer,” because you don’t feel it, or the damage it causes. Check your numbers often and if they are above 120/80, talk to your doctor about lifestyle, diet, and medication options for treating this condition.
•Tackle the obvious. Being overweight, not getting enough physical activity, eating too much salt (sodium), and not eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables all contribute to high blood pressure. Take control of the things you can change, and work with your doctor to best manage those you can’t—your age, gender, and ethnicity.
Reference: Hypertension 2013;61:779–85
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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