Scientists learn than it's not all about genetics.
In the past few years, scientists have learned a lot about the ways that our genes set us up for certain diseases and ailments. However, scientists are now learning that other factors may be just as influential as genetics. Heart disease, for example, has many genetic risk factors. But this is not the only thing that plays into your risk of developing heart disease. Vitamin D and genetic heart conditions have a complex relationship that scientists have only recently discovered. Indeed, vitamin D plays an important role in preventing many genetic diseases.
Can Vitamin D Fix Genetic Health Problems?
Up to one billion people around the world do not get enough vitamin D, even though it's available from simple sunlight. It's widely known that vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets, a softening of the bones in children. The vitamin's other roles in health have only recently been uncovered. Low levels of vitamin D lead to greater vulnerability to diseases like multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, certain cancers, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Vitamin D also interacts with DNA, affecting preexisting genetic risk factors for diseases such as heart disease. In a recent study at the University of Oxford, researchers were able to use DNA sequencing technology to map vitamin D's interactions with DNA. Their findings are stunning: vitamin D interacts with 2776 binding sites on our genetic code, giving it the power to inhibit genes that can trigger heart disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Crohn's disease, and cancers like leukemia and colorectal cancer.
Other research has been done specifically about vitamin D and heart conditions. In patients who had already experienced heart disease, usually brought on in part by genetic risk factors, vitamin D levels were often well below the recommended levels. Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute researchers found that raising those levels significantly decreased risk for coronary artery disease. Patients who were able to increase vitamin D intake were 33% less likely to have a heart attack, 20% less likely to have heart failure, and overall 30% less likely to die in the year-long course of the study. In other words, simply raising intake of this single vitamin made people suffering from genetic heart conditions one-third more likely to survive the next year without heart trouble.
How can this be possible? No one is quite certain. In addition to the complex interplay between vitamin D and genetic heart conditions, vitamin D also seems to have more immediate effects on ailing hearts. Some scientists believe that it has anti-inflammatory powers, helping blood vessels stay healthy—a major key to preventing heart disease. It has also been shown that low vitamin D levels are associated with high levels of C-reactive protein, which measures inflammation in the body. Higher vitamin D intake works to control levels of this tell-tale protein.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults and children get about 300 international units of vitamin D per day. But for those at risk because of genetic or other factors, an increase of up to 5000 international units per day may be helpful. This powerful vitamin has the ability to correct genetic flaws and prevent heart disease, making it one of the most important supplements we can add to our diets.