Low levels of vitamin D may indicate a higher risk of dying from heart disease, cancer and other illnesses, according to a new study.
A possible link has been found between people with the lowest levels of vitamin D and death from cardiovascular disease and also deaths from cancer among people who have a history of the disease.
The study from the German Cancer Research Centre, published in the BMJ, paid particular attention the impact of vitamin D in people from different countries, sexes and ages.
The main source of vitamin D is its production in skin thanks to the sun. Women are more prone to low vitamin D than men and different climates across the world also means that concentrations of vitamin D vary in different populations. The elderly, who frequently have less sun exposure, often lack vitamin D.
The study included people who were from the US or Europe and aged between 50 to 79 years old.
During 16 years of follow-up, there were 6,695 deaths in 26,018 patients - 2,624 heart diseases and 2,227 from cancer.
The study found there was no clear trend of vitamin D by age, but women had lower average levels than men.
These in turn were found to be higher among people who were educated and lower among the obese and people who did not exercise.
The study also points out that the results were consistent across countries, sexes, age groups, and time of the year when blood tests were done and that “variation by geographic region, sex and season might need to be taken into account”.
It concluded that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D had an association “with increased all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and cancer mortality (in subjects with a history of cancer)”.
The researchers believe the possible impact of low vitamin D is of “high public health relevance” and should be given high priority.