Vitamin D and Cholesterol

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that around a third of adults in this country have high cholesterol, yet only half of them are receiving treatment to lower it. Unfortunately, lowering cholesterol is a complex goal to achieve and is about far more than spending a bit of time in the sun to soak up on vitamin D. Currently, it now seems that there is an important link between the two.

We know that vitamin D enables our body to absorb calcium and phosphorus, leading to strong bones and teeth. But it does far more as well. In fact, almost every cell in our body has a vitamin D receptor and scientists now believe the vitamin is responsible for around 1,000 different functions in our body.

Vitamin D Deficiency and High Cholesterol

It is believed that people who have a vitamin D deficiency are at an increased risk of developing high cholesterol because their squalene metabolism will progress to what is known as cholesterol synthesis if insufficient vitamin D levels are present. According to scientists, this would explain why cholesterol levels are also higher during winter months.

A lot of research is taking place into the various functions of vitamin D, and not just into the link between vitamin D and cholesterol. So far, the following key findings have been noted:

• There is a possibility that the real nature of cardiovascular disease is something very different than what medicine currently believes. Some are now suggesting that it is actually caused by cholesterol deficiency.
• There is a correlation between vitamin D, sulfur and cholesterol. This correlation is what is believed to prevent cardiovascular disease.
• Science has shown that postmenopausal women who also have higher levels of vitamin D are more likely to have higher good cholesterol (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol (LDL).

Cholesterol – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Cholesterol has been given a bad name, but the reality is that we need it. It is found in our bloodstream and in every single other cell of the body. It is responsible for the production of new membranes, hormones, bile acids to digest fat and, finally, vitamin D. Cholesterol also has a range of other vital functions. What matters, however, is that there is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol, as the table below will show.

Cholesterol Type Function
High-density lipoprotein – HDL – Good cholesterol ·         Keeps cholesterol out of the arteries.

·         Removes excess arterial plaque.

·         May prevent heart disease.

Low-density lipoprotein – LDL – Bad cholesterol

 

·         Builds up in the arteries to form plaque.

·         Causes astherosclerosis.

·         Narrows down the arteries, increasing the chances of clot formation, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Triglycerides ·         When too high, these can lead to diabetes and heart disease.

·         Levels rise by eating sugars and grains, smoking, not being physically active, drinking excess alcohol, and being overweight or obese.

Lipoprotein (a) – Lp(a) ·         LDL plus apoprotein a

·         Increases the chance of heart disease.

All About Vitamin D

Vitamin D comes from a range of different sources, although it is made by the body naturally through direct sun exposure. It has a number of very important specific roles, including:

• Ensuring your teeth and bones develop and remain healthy
• Improving the function of your cardiovascular system
• Keeping your airways and lungs healthy
• Improving your muscle function
• Helping to build up your immune system to fight infections
• Providing protection against certain forms of cancer

Vitamin D and Calcium Supplements Help to Improve Lipid Profiles

In a recent study, some one million people were tested. One group, the test group, were provided with 1,000 mg of calcium and 400 IUs of vitamin D3. This is a very low dosage and generally not enough to address any kind of deficiency. The other group in the study received a placebo.

At the start of the trial, a range of different measurements were taken, including levels of HDL and LDL, triglycerides and vitamin D. The same test was performed after two years. It was found that the women had an increase in vitamin D levels of 38%. They also found a significant lowering in LDL.

It was following this study that scientists started to consider just how important sun exposure is. It is worth remembering that only a very low dose of vitamin D was provided to the group, yet they still noticed remarkable differences. This demonstrates that even a little bit of sun exposure is better than none.

The researchers who completed this study also started to look in greater detail at what is known as ‘cardiovascular disease’. Their theory is that people who have cardiovascular disease actually have cells telling them that they should increase their cholesterol sulfate, which is produced in sun exposure as well. If you do not get enough sun exposure to create cholesterol sulfate, your body will try to obtain it in other ways. One of those ways is to take LDL, which is damaged, and to turn this into plaque.

If this theory is proved to be accurate, it will have tremendous repercussions for the world of medicine. It would prove, for instance, that statins (common drugs prescribed to people with high cholesterol) that cause your body to stop producing cholesterol sulfate, thereby actually leading to a heart attack.

Diet Matters Most

The obesity epidemic is touching all levels of society, with childhood obesity rates soaring. One of the most worrying trends is that many children are now being placed on statins, when they, above anyone else, should attempt to address the issue through diet and, it now seems, vitamin D levels. The side effects of statins are perhaps even more worrying than those of obesity itself, so these really should be avoided.

We also now know that the relationship between the function of your brain and the health of your heart is very strong. It is also known that this relationship starts to form very early on life. Again, vitamin D also plays a vital role in this.

Vitamin D helps to prevent a wealth of conditions. Out of the 30,000 individual genes in the human body, at least 3,000 are affected by vitamin D. The chance of developing cancer, for instance, can be slashed by around 60% if you have adequate levels of vitamin D, most notably skin, prostate, ovarian, lung and pancreatic cancers, but a few others as well.

Will Vitamin D Lower Your Cholesterol Levels?

While it is blatantly obvious that vitamin D supports a number of bodily functions that are negatively affected by high levels of bad cholesterol, the million dollar question is whether or not the vitamin itself actually lowers cholesterol. Unfortunately, the information available is conflicting. A number of studies have shown a few different things, including:

• People with low levels of vitamin D often have high cholesterol, but this does not prove cause and effect.
• A study in 2012 did not identify any cholesterol-lowering effects through vitamin D supplementation in the short term. In fact, test subjects saw an increase in LDL.
• A study in 2014 showed that if people take both calcium and vitamin D supplements, cholesterol levels did improve. Test subjects were all postmenopausal women who were all overweight or obese.

Because of the conflicting data, there is no way to say what the definite effect of vitamin D on cholesterol is. However, further studies are being conducted and they could provide more clarity on the subject. Specifically, scientists are looking into how vitamin D affects the health of the heart.

Various studies have shown that vitamin D supplementation has a positive effect on the health of the heart. However, the issue remains around identifying cause and effect. It is not clear, at present, whether heart health is improved due to lowering of cholesterol and that this lowering is caused by vitamin D, or whether other factors contribute to hearth health and cholesterol levels.

Resources and References:

Vitamin D Supplements Won’t Help Cholesterol Levels: Study – Link between vitamin D and cholesterol. (U.S. News & World Report)
Study: Prevalence of Cardiovascular Risk Factors and the Serum Levels of 25-Hydroxyvitamin D in the United States – Vitamin D and cardiovascular risk factors. (Data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey)
The Short Term Effects of Vitamin D Repletion on Cholesterol – Effects of short-term correction of vitamin D deficiency on cholesterol level. (American Heart Association)
Calcium/Vitamin D Supplementation, Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentrations, and Cholesterol Profiles in the Women’s Health Initiative Calcium/Vitamin D Randomized Trial – Effects of calcium and vitamin D supplements on cholesterol level in women. (NIH.gov)