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Vitamin D May Improve Health Outcomes in Children

February 19th, 2020

Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to have low vitamin D levels, a deficiency that can be associated with markers of poor cardiovascular and metabolic health. However, results from a recent study conducted by UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed improvements in blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, and blood glucose levels in overweight and obese vitamin D-deficient children who took supplemental vitamin D. These findings are important because over time, high blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular problems, and insulin sensitivity and blood glucose issues can lead to type 2 diabetes.

Researchers enrolled 225 children between the ages of 10-18 and assigned them to receive vitamin D tablets containing either 600, 1,000, or 2,000 International Units (IUs, a standard measure) to be taken daily. Notably, 211 of the participants in the study are African American. African Americans are disproportionality affected by vitamin D deficiency because darker skin contains more of a pigment called melanin, which acts as a natural sunscreen. Vitamin D requires sunlight to be absorbed in the body, so darker skin puts African Americans at higher risk for deficiency.

After 6 months, participants in all groups showed improvement in Vitamin D levels, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, and blood glucose levels. Other measures of cardiac health, like arterial stiffness and systemic inflammation, were also studied to see if vitamin D supplementation has beneficial effects, but these measures of heart health appeared to be unaffected. The study suggests the optimization of vitamin D levels in children, especially those with risk factors for cardiovascular disease like obesity, may have beneficial health effects. Lead author of the article, Kumaravel Rajakumar, MD, MS, notes that people commonly associate vitamin D mostly with bone health, “But we know vitamin D is involved in more than building healthy bones. It can turn on and off genes that direct our cells to regulate blood glucose levels, and immune and vascular functions.”

Interested in research studies about heart health? Visit the Pitt+Me Heart and Circulation page.