Atherosclerosis happens when the artery walls start to narrow and harden, eventually leading to a heart attack or stroke—and medicine's standard response is cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, or bypass or angioplasty surgery.
But researchers have discovered that very high doses of vitamin D—six times more than the recommended daily allowance—is "significantly and rapidly reducing (arterial) stiffness," says Anas Raed, lead researcher on the project from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.
The 4,000 international units (IUs) dose achieved a 10 per cent reduction in arterial hardness in just four months when it was tested on a group of 70 African-Americans aged between 13 and 45, who were also overweight or obese. Vitamin D levels of black people tend to be lower because darker skin absorbs less sunlight, a precursor of vitamin D.
In their experiment, the researchers tested a variety of different doses of the vitamin for 16 weeks before assessing the stiffness of arteries with the pulse wave velocity technique. Some of the volunteers were also given a placebo, or dummy dose of vitamin.