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Vitamin D’s Link to Heart Disease

ST. LOUIS―Those that have diabetes along with low levels of vitamin D have nearly double the risk of cardiovascular disease, and new research from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have uncovered a possible reason: Diabetics deficient in vitamin D can't process cholesterol normally,  so it builds up in their blood vessels. The research has not just identified a mechanism that links low vitamin D levels to heart disease risk, it might  lead to a simple fix―increase levels of vitamin D.

"Vitamin D inhibits the uptake of cholesterol by cells called macrophages (often activated by diseases such as diabetes)," says lead researcher Dr. Carlos Bernal-Mizrachi., a Washington University endocrinologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “When people are deficient in vitamin D, the macrophage cells eat more cholesterol, and they can't get rid of it. The macrophages get clogged with cholesterol and become what scientists call foam cells, which are one of the earliest markers of atherosclerosis.” The process accelerates when a person is deficient in vitamin D.

The researchers have found that when the body contains ample vitamin C, it lowers macrophages’ uptake of cholesterol, and they don't turn into foam cells. Bernal-Mizrachi believes diabetics might slow or reverse the development of atherosclerosis if they regain adequate vitamin D levels through increased exposure to sunlight and/or consuming additional vitamin D.

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