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Could vitamin D — the vitamin that isn't really a vitamin after all — be the key to heart health? A new study suggests that the answer is "yes".

You can obtain vitamin D — the "sunshine vitamin" — through sun exposure as well as through food and supplements, and you should! A lack of vitamin D can damage your bones, your teeth, your immune system, your insulin levels, your lung health, and even increase your risk of developing cancer. 

Its name is somewhat misleading: vitamin D is not, actually, a vitamin but a pro-hormone. It's synthesized by the body through exposure to the sun for as little as five or 10 minutes twice or three times a week, after all, while real vitamins can only be obtained through nutrition.

Vitamin or not, vitamin D is crucial. According to the latest research, it can even help people with heart disease recover!

A study conducted by a team from Leeds Teaching Hospitals and presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology demonstrated that heart-diseases patients saw an increased ability to pump blood around their body of they took vitamin D supplements. The team conducted their research on 163 people with heart disease, who had an average age of 70. A great many people within that age group, they noted, have low vitamin D levels even in summer. Consultant cardiologist Dr Klaus White noted: "They do spend less time outside, but the skin's ability to manufacture vitamin D also gets less effective and we don't really understand why that is." 

In order to understand the exact effects of these reduced vitamin D levels, the study team divided the participants into two groups. They were either given 100 micrograms of vitamin D daily, or a placebo pill. 

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is too weak to pump blood around the body adequately. The ejection fraction, a measure that notes how much blood is being pumped out of the heart's chambers with each beat, was used in this study. While the ejection fraction in healthy adults is between 60- and 70 percent, the study participants with heart failure were only pumping out around 26 percent. 

With daily vitamin D supplements, the study team found, that figure rapidly increased to 43 percent. 

Dr White told the BBC: 

 "It's quite a big deal, that's as big as you'd expect from other more expensive treatments that we use, it's a stunning effect. It's as cheap as chips, has no side effects and a stunning improvement on people already on optimal medical therapy, it is the first time anyone has shown something like this in the last 15 years."

Those patients who were given vitamin D supplements also showed signs of a decrease in heart size — something that suggest the hearts were beating more efficiently. 

In a separate study also published this month, researchers from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, UT, found that people with poor vitamin D levels were more likely to experience bad cardiovascular outcomes. While previous research already suggested that vitamin D levels have an impact on every aspect of human health, these two latest studies suggest that it is key for heart health. 

Further research is needed to determine whether prescribing vitamin D supplements to heart-failure patients would lead to better overall outcomes for people suffering from heart failure.

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