Doctors rarely talk about artery flexibility. But it may be just as important to your health as other more familiar markers such as weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
When your arteries lose flexibility, it can be the start of a destructive chain reaction. Having stiff arteries means your heart has to work harder to move blood through your body. This can lead to inflammation and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
The result? A heart attack or stroke.
But a groundbreaking study at Augusta University in Georgia has uncovered a simple way to quickly reverse arterial stiffness.
Researchers wanted to find out if lack of vitamin D is a risk factor for poor artery health. They studied 70 African Americans who had some degree of arterial stiffness.
They focused on African Americans because darker skin absorbs less sunlight, which the body uses to make vitamin D. That’s why darker-skinned people are more often vitamin D deficient. But researchers have found that many lighter-skinned people also lack the nutrient, especially if they live in northern areas that get less sunlight.
The scientists divided subjects into four groups. They took 4,000 IUs of vitamin D, 2,000 IUs, 600 IUs, or a placebo.
The study was double blind. This means neither the researchers nor the subjects knew who was getting what dose until after the study was completed.
Vitamin D Brings Rapid Artery Health Improvement
At the end of 16 weeks, the researchers found that the people taking the highest vitamin D dosage reduced their arterial stiffness by more than 10%. This may not seem like much, but it’s the equivalent of reversing your vascular age by about 7 years.
Dr. Anas Raed is a research resident in cardiology at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. He was lead author of the study. Vitamin D “significantly and rapidly reduced stiffness,” Dr. Raed said.
There was a direct correlation between vitamin D intake and artery flexibility. The more of the vitamin subjects took, the more their artery health improved.
Subjects getting 4,000 IUs saw a 10.4% increase in artery flexibility. People taking 2,000 IUs of vitamin D improved by 2%. Those taking 600 IUs saw no benefit.
But the placebo group actually got worse. They showed a 2.3% increase in stiffness.
The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
How Vitamin D Can Save Your Heart
Scientists believe vitamin D supplements reduces arterial stiffness in several ways…
Low vitamin D causes unstable hormone levels in the blood. This can lead to blood vessel constriction. Proper levels of vitamin D suppress production of destructive vascular cells that thicken and stiffen artery walls. Vitamin D also reduces inflammation, a contributor to artery stiffness and heart disease.
Vitamin D deficiency is a huge problem for Americans of all races. Especially in the winter months. A 2010 study found that 42% of Americans are deficient. As we mentioned earlier, African Americans are most likely to have low levels. About 75% were found to be vitamin D deficient. 
The Best Kind of Vitamin D
Pasture-raised eggs and oily fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines, herring, or mackerel are all good food sources of vitamin D. But it can be difficult to get enough from food to overcome a deficiency.
The researchers say the simplest and most natural way to avoid a deficiency is to get 15 minutes of sun every day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Make sure your arms and legs are uncovered.
A supplement may be a more practical solution during the cold winter months. But make sure you take the right kind. For years, we have been telling you that not all vitamin D supplements are created equal.
Vitamin D supplements come in two varieties: D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol).
A study at University of Surrey in England found that D3 is the right choice. Researchers there gave D-deficient volunteers either D2 or D3 supplements.
The group receiving vitamin D3 raised their blood levels of the vitamin by 75%. Those getting D2 had only a 34% increase.
Check with your doctor to see if your vitamin D blood levels are low. It is a simple blood draw. Ideal levels are 40-60 ng/mL. A reading lower than 20 ng/mL could signal that you are setting yourself up for cardiovascular problems.
If you are low, we recommend taking 5,000 IUs a day of a D3 supplement.
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