Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, but the strength of the link in diabetics has always puzzled scientists who are now beginning to understand some of the reasons behind it.
The study was conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and found that vitamin D deficiency causes diabetics to be unable to process cholesterol normally. The compound builds up in their veins, creating plaques and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Dr. Carlos Bernal-Mizrachi, a Washington University endocrinologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, says the vitamin inhibits the uptake of cholesterol by cells called macrophages.
"When people are deficient in vitamin D, the macrophage cells eat more cholesterol, and they can’t get rid of it…They become what scientists call foam cells, which are one of the earliest markers of atherosclerosis," he stresses.
In addition to vitamin D, nutritional supplements containing niacin, omega-3 fatty acids and red yeast rice extract may help boost cardiovascular health by reducing LDL, also known as "bad" cholesterol, and increase the levels of healthy HDL.