New research suggests that having too little vitamin D, the so-called sunshine vitamin, can contribute to heart disease, falls and broken bones, breast cancer, prostate cancer, depression, and memory loss, reports the December 2009 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter, according to a recent press release. Vitamin D is best known for building and maintaining healthy bones by helping the digestive system absorb calcium and phosphorus. But it does much, much more.

Coronary artery disease. Calcium deposits that stiffen the arteries are more likely to develop in people with low levels of vitamin D. In one study, men low in vitamin D were twice as likely to develop heart disease.

High blood pressure. Vitamin D decreases the kidneys’ production of renin, a hormone that boosts blood pressure. Several studies suggest that low vitamin D contributes to high blood pressure, and that getting more of the vitamin can help control blood pressure.

Statin-related muscle pain. Some people who take a cholesterol-lowering statin stop because of muscle pain. In a study of 128 men and women with statin-related muscle pain, two-thirds of them had low vitamin D levels. Among those who took a vitamin D supplement, muscle pain disappeared in 90%.

Infection. Preliminary trials suggest that too little vitamin D can leave the body prone to infection, and having enough in circulation can help the body fight off the flu, tuberculosis, and infections of the upper respiratory tract.

The Harvard Heart Letter notes that supplements are the simplest, safest way to get vitamin D. Getting 800 to 1,000 IU daily from supplements is a good goal. Ask your doctor to test your vitamin D level, and take a supplement if it is low.

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