Vitamins have many roles in human health and vitamin D is no exception. Although it’s closely associated with calcium absorption and bone health, vitamin D has also been linked to the immune system and cardiovascular health. The Food and Drug Administration has recommended guidelines on how much vitamin D people should get, but these levels can vary by fitness, gender, and even race. In a new study examining the role of vitamin D in heart health, researchers found that low vitamin D levels may increase the risk of heart health challenges in white and Chinese ethnicities, but not in blacks or Hispanics.
Genes May Be a Factor
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), was an observational paper pulled from data on over 6,400 patients enrolled in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). MESA is one of the most diverse, long-term studies on heart health among different ethnic groups in the United States. Vitamin D is produced naturally in skin cells from sun exposure. Races with less melanin (or pigment cells) tend to produce more vitamin D than blacks or Hispanics under the same amount of light exposure. According to Dr. Cassianne Robinson-Cohen, the lead author of the JAMA paper, “We don’t know for sure, but perhaps genes affecting the need for and use of vitamin D could have evolved to adapt to different levels of sun exposure in places where various ethnic subgroups of people originated.” One of the key findings that researchers noticed was that while blacks and Hispanics may have higher rates of developing heart health challenges, low vitamin D did not appear to be a significant factor. This may be because their bodies have adapted to metabolizing vitamin D differently.
It’s the Little Differences That Count
One of the most important things to take home from the study is that a one-size-fits-all approach to treatments seldom works. Increasing white or Chinese patients’ vitamin D dosage to support their heart health may be effective for them, but taking the same approach to black or Hispanic patients may have little effect. Dr. Michael Lauer, director of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s Division of Cardiovascular Sciences that funded the MESA study, hopes that the report “underscores the value of conducting studies that include participants from diverse backgrounds. The MESA investigators have presented a finding that could serve as a foundation for future research on the possible link between vitamin D blood levels and heart health.” Studies like these may also lead to more personalized nutritional recommendations of vitamin D and other nutrients, so that future populations may get essential levels of vitamins and minerals that are truly essential to them.