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An insufficient vitamin D supply in childhood may promote atherosclerosis as adult

March 1, 2015

A new study from Finland reports that low blood vitamin D concentrations in childhood seem to increase occurrence of atherosclerosis in adulthood.

In the observational study, the blood vitamin D concentrations were measured in 2,148 participants at age 3 to 18 years and their carotid intima-thickness (IMT) – an indicator of atherosclerosis – was determined at age 30 to 45 years (1). The study results showed that participants with the lowest vitamin D levels in childhood (below 43 nmol/L) had a significantly higher prevalence of high-risk IMT as adults. The association was independent of conventional cardiovascular risk factors including serum lipids, blood pressure, smoking, diet, physical activity, obesity indices and socioeconomic status.

The researchers commented that IMT is a marker of structural atherosclerosis, which correlates with cardiovascular risk factors, and predicts cardiovascular events. The importance of vitamin D for cardiovascular health has been the focus of increasing interest. Low levels of vitamin D have been shown to be related to increased risk of stroke and heart attack. The effects of vitamin D on cardiovascular risk seems to operate earlier in the life-course, the scientists said. Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency are highly prevalent among children worldwide. The study identified children at high risk of developing vitamin D deficiency as those whose diet is poor in sources of vitamin D (either through natural sources or fortified foods), those who do not regularly take food supplements or children who do not have adequate sunlight exposure. Current US guidelines suggest that the optimal vitamin D level in childhood is 50nmol/L.

Juonala M. et al. Childhood 25-OH Vitamin D Levels and Carotid Intima-media Thickness in Adulthood: The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Published online February 2015.