February is a month to not only show you care about your loved one, but it is also a time to show you care about your health. Along with Valentine’s Day, February marks the American Heart Month.
Heart disease refers to a range of conditions that usually involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels, potentially leading to a heart attack, chest pain or stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. However, there are small steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. These modifiable risk factors include:
- Exercising: Whether it’s walking your dog around the neighborhood or doing cross-fit, exercise will reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Eating healthy: Eat out less, and cook your own meals from home. This way, you can control the sodium, carbohydrates and saturated fat content in your meal.
- Take your medication: Set alarms to remind you to take your prescribed medication in order to help restore your heart health.
Lastly, studies have shown that maintaining healthy vitamin D levels may also reduce one’s risk for heart disease. There are many plausible mechanisms to explain this relationship, including vitamin D’s role in the renin angiotensin system, endothelial health and inflammation.
In a recent study, researchers aimed to evaluate the relationship between vitamin D status and functional outcome in patients with thrombolytic ischemic stroke.
Thrombolytic ischemic strokes occur when a blood clot forms in an artery going to the brain. This is often caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries known as atherosclerosis. About 85% of strokes are ischemic strokes.
The researchers measured vitamin D levels of 352 patients with thrombolytic ischemic stroke within the first 24 hours after admission to the hospital. They compared the functional state and clinical severity between those who had vitamin D levels below 10 ng/ml and those who had levels of 10 ng/ml or greater at admission and at discharge. The functional state was evaluated with the modified Rankin Scale score; a higher score indicates a more severe disability. Clinical severity was assessed using the National Institute of Health’s Stroke Scale score. Here is what the researchers found:
- Clinical severity at baseline was similar between the 2 groups.
- The clinical severity at discharge was greater in patients with low vitamin D levels (p = 0.02).
- The functional state at discharge was significantly impaired in patients with low vitamin D levels in comparison to patients with higher vitamin D levels (p <0.001).
- Patients with low vitamin D levels had more than twice the risk of higher functional impairment than patients with higher vitamin D levels (p = 0.027).
- After adjusting for confounding factors, the association remained, and patients with low vitamin D levels experienced a 1.7 times greater risk of functional impairment compared to those with higher vitamin D levels (p = 0.027).
The researchers concluded,
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate that a low 25(OH)D level is associated with worse functional outcome at 3 months in thrombolytic ischemic stroke patients.”
The researchers pointed out the study’s limitations. The vitamin D status was only measured once, and some patients may have received vitamin D supplementation after their levels were tested. Therefore, the researchers stated, “the true association between low 25(OH)D levels and poor outcome may have been underestimated.” In addition, the study did not evaluate the benefits of maintaining healthy vitamin D levels. Instead, the researchers only compared vitamin D levels < 10 ng/ml and > 10 ng/ml, meaning that even the patients categorized by “having higher vitamin D levels” may have been severely deficient. This would likely cause the findings to have been further underestimated. Lastly, the study followed an observational design, and thus, was impossible to determine causality.
Tovey, A. & Cannell, JJ. Heart Month: New study finds vitamin D status linked to functional outcome in stroke patients. The Vitamin D Council Blog & Newsletter, February, 2016.