Vitamin D and High Blood Pressure – and Sunshine!
That’s all changing now though, as medical researchers come out with more and more studies showing how vital vitamin D is for many key aspects of our health, including healthy blood pressure.
Now, it’s long been known that vitamin D is important for a strong immune system and healthy bones. However, over the past decade, medical researchers have been increasingly discovering how important it is for a whole range of bodily processes, including the cardiovascular system and blood pressure.
Unfortunately, the other thing medical researchers have been discovering is how many of us are deficient in vitamin D. And it’s clear now that there’s more of a connection between lack of vitamin D and high blood pressure than previously thought.
Currently, it’s estimated that over a billion people around the world are seriously lacking vitamin D, which includes many in the US and Northern European countries.
Unlike the other vitamins and minerals, vitamin D is not something you can get enough of through food and drink – you have to make most of it yourself, from sunlight. The problem is that most of us don’t get enough sunlight, or enough of the right kind of sunlight.
This isn’t just relevant for blood pressure. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with increased risk of common cancers (breast, colon, prostate), osteoporosis, infectious diseases like colds and flu, auto-immune disorders like MS, as well as heart disease and high blood pressure.
Vitamin D and high blood pressure
Researchers reckon there are a number of ways in which vitamin D helps reduce blood pressure and have a protective effect on the heart.
Vitamin D helps lower blood pressure through its effects on the renin-angiotensin system (which regulates blood pressure). Insufficient vitamin D often means that this system is over-activated, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Another way vitamin D reduces blood pressure is through having a relaxing effect on muscle cells in the walls of blood vessels (they’ve been found to have receptors for vitamin D).
Vitamin D is also necessary for your body to effectively absorb calcium. Calcium works with magnesium to promote healthy blood pressure, and calcium is important for strong healthy bones.
Lack of vitamin D, and calcium are also associated with higher risk of bone problems like osteoporosis. These problems often don’t develop until later in life so getting enough vitamin D now can keep them at bay.
How to get enough Vitamin D
It’s pretty much impossible to get enough vitamin D from the food you eat.
The main food source is fatty fish – catfish, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna, or fish liver oil. A 100g / 3.5 ounce serving of fatty fish still only gives you about 250-400 IU – only a quarter of what you need.
Eggs also contain a little vitamin D. Some foods, like milk, are sometimes fortified with vitamin D. If you’re vegan, the few plant sources include alfalfa and portabella mushrooms. Oh, and you can also get it from the liver and fat of seals and polar bears, if you live up north.
So you need to rely on the two other sources: sunshine and supplements.
As far back as we can delve into human history, humans have worshipped the sun. Almost all religions have had solar gods, and in many societies, rulers were said to be descended from the sun. Now we mostly associate sun worshipping with the quest for the perfect sun tan. Yet that’s often seen as dangerous, as we come to understand the risks of getting skin cancer from over-exposure to the sun.
Yet, ironically, avoiding exposure to the sun through fear of skin cancer can increase our risks of developing other cancers. This is because vitamin D helps inhibit abnormal cell growth, and studies show vitamin D helps protect against breast, prostate and colon cancer.
So now we often have the opposite problem – not getting enough sun! This is often partly because we don’t go out in the sun without some kind of sun protection, but also because we tend to live more indoor lives than in the past – spending more time in houses, offices, cars.
Until the 50’s, heliotherapy – giving patients controlled doses of sunlight – was an accepted medical practice, and people flocked to sanatoriums in the sunny Swiss alps to sunbathe and get fresh air.
Nowadays, getting out in the sun is recognized as being healthy again. The US National Institute of Health (NIH) now recommends some sun exposure as important for generating vitamin D. And a Dutch study found that exposing people to sunshine increased their vitamin D levels and lowered their blood pressure.
A German study, at a Berlin university, also looked at the effects of sunlight exposure on vitamin D levels and blood pressure, using sunbeds (tanning beds). One group used a sunbed which emitted full-spectrum UV radiation similar to summer sunlight. Another group used a sunbed which emitted UVA-only radiation, which is similar to winter sunlight. After three months, the group who’d had the full-spectrum UV light had (on average) an 180% increase in their vitamin D levels and a 6 mm Hg decrease in their blood pressure (systolic and diastolic). The other group, receiving just the UVA-radiation experienced no difference in their vitamin D levels or blood pressure.
NOTE: This does not mean that using sunbeds will increase your vitamin D levels! Most sunbeds mostly emit UVA radiation, without much of the UVB that triggers vitamin D production.
So get out and soak yourself in the sun… Yes, this can be done safely.
A short sun-bath
How much sunlight is safe for you depends not only on the strength of the sun where you are, but on your own skin. Also, how much sunlight you need to make vitamin D varies. Paler skins can make more vitamin D per amount of sunlight than darker skins (this includes suntan as well as your basic skin colour).
Read our article here for more details about sunlight and high blood pressure, and how to get an optimal amount of sunlight: Can sunlight lower blood pressure?
Short repeated periods of sun exposure are safer and more effective than long periods in the sun.
A good guideline is to get enough sun to start to give you a very light tan, but without any skin reddening (roughly about a quarter of the time it would take for you to start to get sunburned).
However, it’s very important to be out in the right kind of sunlight, and this depends on the time of day, and your latitude.
Types of sunlight
There are two types of sunshine – UVA and UVB. UVA is present all day long as the sun shines abut its UVB that provides the best doses of Vitamin D. UVB is only accessible when the sun is shining at a high degree through the earth atmosphere so it isn’t blocked by the ozone layer.
What this means is that the higher the latitude you live at the less UVB there is present both before and after noon when the sun reaches its highest level. This shorter window is even more acute in the winter.
The best type of sunshine is direct sunlight around noon (which is 1 pm if you are in Daylight Saving Time/British Summer Time). This is when you will get your best dose of Vitamin D-providing UVB rays. Try to get outside and get it direct as clouds, smog, fog, even glass will significantly reduce the amount of UVB that gets through.
Remember though – even if you do get outside at the right times on a sunny day, there’s a good chance you’re still not getting enough vitamin D, especially if you’re living in the UK and other north-west European countries or even Canada.
What is enough Vitamin D?
The US Food and Nutrition Board recommends a daily intake of 600 IU (15 mcg) for children and adults, going up to 800 IU (20mcg) once you’re over 70. However, many medical researchers believe these guidelines are too conservative, especially for those dealing with chronic health problems like high blood pressure.
You’re better to aim for at least 1,000 IU (25 mcg) of vitamin D daily. This is still well within the safe upper limit set by US health authorities of 4,000 IU. And even that, many argue, is far too conservative. For example, Dr John Jacob Cannell, executive director of The Vitamin D Council, notes that the skin makes 10,000 IU of vitamin D after 30 minutes of full-body sun exposure. He suggests that 10,000 IU of vitamin D is therefore not toxic.
In the UK, more and more research is suggesting that we’re chronically deficient in vitamin D, especially in Scotland due to its higher latitude. The Scottish government now recommends everyone in Scotland take vitamin D supplements: All Scots advised to take vitamin D
NOTE: Vitamin D comes in different forms. D3 – cholecalciferol – is the form in which its
made in your skin. This is the best form to take in a supplement. D2 – elgocalciferol – is also an important form of vitamin D, but taking D3 is more effective for maintaining good vitamin D levels in your blood.
You can buy a good quality vitamin D3 supplement online here: Vitamin D3 (CLE Holistic Health)
And you can read in more detail about how much vitamin D to take here: How Much Vitamin D Do I Need? (Ora Organic website)
Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally (for Life)
Getting enough vitamin D is one step towards managing high blood pressure. However there’s a lot more you can do to lower your blood pressure naturally.
For a start, there’s a large choice of affordable natural ingredients that lower blood pressure. Many of these spices, herbs, berries, fruits, grains, vegetables, meats and drinks are available in local stores.
Of course there are other factors beyond diet (like fitness and stress) that affect your blood pressure. So the best way to lower your blood pressure without drugs is to apply a broader approach – covering all causes and cures with natural home-based remedies.
This might sound daunting, especially if you’re just starting out on this route to better blood pressure but actually these changes can be incorporated quite easily into your everyday life.
The question is knowing what to do and figuring out how and when to do it. So to make it simple, we’ve put together a complete guide to lowering your blood pressure naturally:
The guide is laid out in 9 straightforward steps. You just follow the advice for each step – take it a week at a time or a month at a time, whatever suits you – and you’ll be on your way to lower blood pressure and better health in general.
Not only is the guide easy to follow but it’s also enjoyable to follow, with lots of tasty food and drink suggestions, and useful tips and insights on lifestyle changes. Little things that – put together – can make a big difference.
Lowering your blood pressure naturally doesn’t have to be hard!
To download a sample of the guide to your computer right now click here and scroll to the bottom of the page for the download link.
Vitamin D and high blood pressure, and sunshine: some references
Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health *recommended read – covers the whole debate (historically and now) about the role of sunlight in human health, including information about sunshine and hypertension