Vitamin D3 is synthesized naturally in the skin by converting the UVB light from sunshine. It’s also found naturally in some foods, added to other foods, and available as a supplement.
“We typically think of vitamin D as being essential to bone health,” Abigail Rabatin, PharmD, a pharmacist who specializes in cardiovascular health at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, told Healthline. “It helps prevent your body from leeching nutrients out of the bone and causing them to get weak.”
While it’s long been known for its role in promoting healthy bones, researchers at Ohio University have found an intriguing new benefit to vitamin D — and it’s all thanks to their work with high-tech nanosensors.
The study was conducted by Dr. Tadeusz Malinski, a professor of chemistry at Ohio University, along with two graduate students, Alamzeb Khan and Hazem Dawoud. It was published in the International Journal of Nanomedicine.
The nanosensors are 1,000 times smaller in diameter than a human hair. They were used by the researchers to measure the ways that vitamin D3 affected individual endothelial cells, which serve a crucial regulatory role in cardiovascular health.
Malinski told Healthline that these sensors allowed his team to view the way vitamin D3 affects the cells in near-real time.
“Because we have these unique tools developed, the nanosensing devices allow us to see in vitro or in vivo processes which occur in the single cells,” he said. “We can see, in situ, biomolecular processes as they are occurring.”
Malinski’s team found that vitamin D3 has a restorative effect on the cardiovascular system, reducing the risk of heart attack and repairing damage done by hypertension, atherosclerosis, and diabetes.
The findings held true in both white study participants as well as African-American participants.
“There are not many, if any, known systems which can be used to restore cardiovascular endothelial cells which are already damaged, and vitamin D3 can do it,” said Malinski in a press statement.
Some surprising findings
Rabatin said she has seen some interesting studies on vitamin D in the lipid clinic at The Ohio State University where she works.
“With this population, we do prescribe statin medications, and there have been some studies to suggest that replenishing vitamin D in patients with vitamin D deficiency does prevent the side effects from these medications,” she said. “So, those are some of the cardiovascular ways that we have used vitamin D.”
Malinski said that, due to prior research that established the potential of vitamin D3 in cardiovascular health, the compound became a good candidate for his team’s nanosensing devices.
“I predicted that Vitamin D3 could stimulate nitric oxide release, which would be an important finding if we can measure it,” he said. “We found that D3 did indeed stimulate nitric oxide release, so it wasn’t a big surprise for us.”
“The real surprise was that vitamin D3 really reduced release of oxidative species, and this effect is very, very striking,” he explained.
In short, the presence of vitamin D3 in the cardiovascular system significantly reduced levels of oxidative stress, improving cardiovascular health in general.
Cheap and accessible
“I think that the results show a positive association, certainly, with vitamin D at the cellular level, and I do think it’s encouraging that the findings were the same regardless of race,” said Rabatin. “I think that it’s definitely an area that we’re going to need more data in, and looking at more, larger-scale studies to really apply these findings to clinical practice.”
“There will be more exciting possibilities than vasculature, even though vasculature is a very important finding,” said Malinski. “The next step, though, is to look at the role of vitamin D3 in the action of neurons.”
Perhaps the biggest takeaway is the evidence that a common supplement plays a positive role in cardiovascular health as well as bone health.
Vitamin D3 is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, a compilation of the most critical medications to meet the needs of an effective and safe health system.
Even for those who aren’t getting enough free vitamin D3 from sunshine, the supplement is inexpensive in most pharmacies.
In his statement, Malinski concluded, “This is a very inexpensive solution to repair the cardiovascular system. We don’t have to develop a new drug. We already have it.”