Does Vitamin D Reduce Cholesterol In Children?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Vitamin D, Vitamin D and Heart Disease

Is Vitamin D Associated With Heart Disease Risk?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

vitamin-d-reduce-cholesterol-childrenNot too many years ago, we thought of vitamin D as affecting bone density and little else. Then we discovered that almost every cell in our body has vitamin D receptors. This has lead to research suggesting that vitamin D affects our health in many ways that were unimaginable only a couple of decades ago.

For example, low vitamin D levels are associated with increased risk of heart disease. The linkage between vitamin D and heart disease has not been proven. Nor do we know the mechanism. However, this has lead to ongoing research asking if there is any relationship between vitamin D and cholesterol metabolism.

The answer appears to be yes. Several studies have suggested a correlation between low vitamin D levels and elevated total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides – all risk factors for heart disease.

The next question is how early in life is this correlation found. Again, some studies have suggested that the same correlation between low vitamin D and high levels of unhealthy lipids are found in teens. But, what about pre-teens, children who haven’t gone through puberty yet? That’s what this study was designed to determine.

 

How Was The Study Done?

vitamin-d-reduce-cholesterol-children studyThe current study  was based on data collected from 419 children, ages 6-8, in the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) Study in Eastern Finland. This was a lifestyle study that collected information on body weight, diet, and activity levels.

Fasting blood samples were also collected and analyzed for blood lipid levels (total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides) and for 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), which is considered the most accurate measure of vitamin D status. The National Institutes of Health considers:

  • <30 nmol/L of 25(OH)D an indicator of vitamin D deficiency.
  • 30 to <50 nmol/L 25(OH)D an indicator of vitamin D insufficiency.
  • ≥50 nmol/L 25(OH)D an indicator of adequate vitamin D status.

To put this study in perspective, vitamin D status is a major concern in Finland because of its proximity to the Arctic Circle. There is little sunlight in the winter, and, although the days are long in the summer, the sun is weak. The major sources of vitamin D in the Finnish diet are fish, vitamin D-fortified fluid milk products, vitamin D-fortified fat spreads, and vitamin D supplementation. Vitamin D fortification was introduced in Finland in 2003. Vitamin D supplementation has also become increasing popular. The number of people using vitamin D supplements has increased from 11% in 2000 to 41% in 2011.

A recent study  looking a vitamin D status between 2000 and 2011 found that the combination of food fortification and vitamin D supplementation has been successful at improving vitamin D status in the Finnish population, increasing average 25(OH)D levels from 48 nmol/L to 65 nmol/L.

 

Does Vitamin D Reduce Cholesterol In Children?

vitamin dIn this study the mean serum 25(OH)D in the children was 68.1 nmol/L. 20% of the children had serum 25(OH)D below 50 nmol/L, and only 4 children (1%) had serum 25(OH)D below 30 nmol/L. When 25(OH)D levels were compared with blood lipid levels:

  • Higher serum 25(OH)D levels were associated with lower plasma levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
  • The association between higher 25(OH)D levels and lower blood levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol remained after correcting for weight, physical activity, sedentary behavior, diet, daylight time, parental education, and genetic mutations known to affect vitamin D metabolism.

What Does This Mean For You?

I don’t want to overinterpret the study. Not all studies show an inverse association between 25(OH)D and cholesterol levels. Most of the previous studies have also indicated that higher 25(OH)D levels were associated increased HDL levels, while this study found higher 25(OH)D levels associated with decreased HDL levels. Much more research needs to be done.

However, this study is yet another indication that optimal vitamin D status may be important for heart health, even in young children. While the correlation between vitamin D status and heart health is not definitive at present, virtually everyone agrees that adequate vitamin D status is a good thing.

My recommendations are to:

  • Get as much vitamin D as possible from vitamin D-fortified foods, oily fish, and sensible sun exposure.
  • Get your serum 25(OH)D level determined and take vitamin D supplements if it is low.

 

The Bottom Line

 

A recent study of vitamin D status in Finnish children ages 6-8 found:

  • Higher vitamin D status was associated with lower plasma levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
  • The association between better vitamin D status and lower blood levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol remained after correcting for weight, physical activity, sedentary behavior, diet, daylight time, parental education, and genetic mutations known to affect vitamin D metabolism.

This study is another indication that optimal vitamin D status may be important for heart health, even in young children. While the correlation between vitamin D status and heart health is not definitive at present, virtually everyone agrees that adequate vitamin D status is a good thing.

My recommendations are to:

  • Get as much vitamin D as possible from vitamin D-fortified foods, oily fish, and sensible sun exposure.
  • Get your serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level determined and take vitamin D supplements if it is low.
  • Make sure your children are getting enough vitamin D in their diet and have optimal serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D.

For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

How Long Do the Benefits of Supplements Last?

Posted October 23, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Can Supplements Set You On A Path Towards A Healthier Life?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

benefits of supplements heartA recent study (U Alehagen et al, PLOS One, April 11, 2018, 1-15 ) reported that the heart benefits of supplementation with coenzyme Q10 and selenium persisted for 12 years after supplementation ended. You would have thought a story like that would have made the headlines. Nope. Hardly a mention. Perhaps it did not match the narrative of the media and health professionals that supplements are worthless.

This study broke new ground. Most studies last a year or two and report whether there were any benefits of supplementation. A few studies have been extended a few years beyond the original supplementation period and have reported continued benefits of supplementation. However, in those studies the intervention group was still taking supplements. The intervention period was simply extended.

However, this study was unique in that supplementation was discontinued after 4 years. However, the positive effects of supplementation during that four-year period persisted for another 12 years without additional supplementation.

 

How Was The Study Done?

benefits of supplements monitoring heartIn this study 443 elderly individuals (average age =78) were recruited from a rural village in Sweden. They were given either supplements providing 200 mg/day of coenzyme Q10 and 200 mcg/day of selenium yeast or placebo pills. They were followed for four years. At this point the intervention phase of the trial ended, and the participants were followed for another 12 years without supplementation.

Cardiovascular deaths and all-cause mortality were recorded at 4 years (the end of the original intervention period), 10 years, and 12 years. The Swedish health care system is incredibly efficient. None of the participants were lost to follow-up.

Note on study design: Both coenzyme Q10 and selenium have heart health benefits and they compliment each other. Coenzyme Q10 was included in this study because our bodies lose the ability to make coenzyme Q10 as we age. By the time we reach age 80, we only make around half the coenzyme Q10 we made when we were younger. Selenium was included in the study because most Swedes are selenium deficient.

This study measured selenium levels and confirmed that all participants were selenium deficient at the beginning of the study. Selenium levels increased to near optimal in the supplemented group during the 4-year intervention period. In contrast, the placebo group remained selenium deficient.

 

How Long Do the Benefits of Supplements Last?

benefits of supplementationThe results of the study were truly amazing.

When you compared the group that had received coenzyme Q10 and selenium during the first 4 years of the study with the placebo group:

  • Cardiovascular mortality was 38% less and all-cause mortality was 24% less 12 years later in the supplement group.
  • The decrease in cardiovascular mortality lessened slightly with time (53% lower at 4 years, 46% lower at 10 years, and 38% lower at 12 years.
  • In contrast, the decrease in all-cause mortality remained relatively constant.
  • The effect was greater for women (who have lower coenzyme Q10 levels than men) than it was for men.
  • The decrease in cardiovascular mortality was 57% for women and 22% for men.
  • Cardiovascular mortality was decreased by 40-50% for people at high risk of cardiovascular death because of atherosclerosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, or impaired heart function.

Putting This Study Into Perspective

benefits of supplements wellnessI don’t want to read too much into this study. It has multiple limitations:

  • It is a very small study.
  • It is the first study I am aware of that has followed study participants years after supplementation has ended. More studies like this are clearly needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn.
  • It may be unique to Sweden where selenium deficiency is widespread. Selenium deficiency is much less prevalent in some other countries such as the United States.
  • It is possible that once the study population heard about the results of the initial 4-year study they started self-supplementing with coenzyme Q10 and selenium. However, since the participants did not know whether they were in the supplement or placebo group, that would likely affect both groups equally.

However, it is the implications of the study that fascinate me.

  • The authors of the study speculated that the improvement in endothelial cell function (Endothelial cells line the arteries and play an important role in arterial health) and/or decreased inflammation may have persisted long after supplementation stopped.
  • A more interesting idea is that supplementation (or the effects of supplementation) caused modifications to the DNA that were persistent (something we refer to as epigenetics). Moreover, those DNA modifications may have altered gene expression in a manner that reduced heart disease risk.

Much more work needs to be done before we know whether epigenetic modifications were responsible for the persistent benefit of supplementation in this, or any other, study. However, the ramifications of this idea are substantial. We think of supplementation as something that provides benefit only while we are taking the supplement. What if, under the right conditions, supplementation could send us down an entirely different path to better health? That would be worth major headlines.

 

The Bottom Line

 

A recent study in Sweden looked at the effects of supplementation with coenzyme Q10 and selenium on heart health 12 years after supplementation had ended.

  • The study reported that cardiovascular mortality was 38% less and all-cause mortality was 24% less 12 years later in the group that supplemented during the first 4 years.

The study has multiple limitations and needs to be repeated before drawing any definite conclusions. However, if true, it has interesting implications. What if the benefits of supplementation didn’t stop when you stopped supplementing? What if supplementation sent you down an entirely different path, a path towards better health?

For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

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