A daily dose of cod liver oil rich in the sunshine vitamin boosts heart health in those that weakened hearts, a study found.
Patients with long term heart failure who took vitamin D3 supplements saw the amount of blood the heart pumped around the body per beat increase by over a third.
Heart failure is a condition caused by the heart failing to pump enough blood around the body at the right pressure.
This is usually because the heart muscle has become too weak or stiff to work properly.
It affects about 900,000 people in the UK and is more common in older people – more than half of all people with heart failure are over 75.
Vitamin D3 is made by the skin when exposed to sunlight and found in some foods such as oily fish like salmon or herrings, egg, cheese and oil liver oil supplements.
But as we age our body’s ability to make Vitamin D3 diminishes and many people who suffer heart failure are deficient in the nutrient anyway.
A five year study known as VINDICATE led by the University of Leeds found a daily dose of vitamin D3 improves heart function in people with chronic heart failure.
Dr Klaus Witte, from the University’s School of Medicine and Consultant Cardiologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said: “This is a significant breakthrough for patients.
“It is the first evidence that vitamin D3 can improve heart function of people with heart muscle weakness – known as heart failure.
“These findings could make a significant difference to the care of heart failure patients.”
The study involved more than 160 patients from Leeds who were already being treated for their heart failure using proven treatments including beta-blockers, ACE-inhibitors and pacemakers.
Participants were asked to take vitamin D3 or a placebo tablet for one year.
Those patients who took vitamin D3 experienced an improvement in heart function but those who took the placebo did not.
Heart specialists measured heart function by taking an ultrasound scan of the heart (known as an echocardiogram) and measured how much blood pumps from the heart with each heartbeat, known as ejection fraction.
The ejection fraction of a healthy person is usually between 60 per cent and 70 per cent.
In heart failure patients this drops and the study participants had an average of 26 per cent.
In the 80 patients who took Vitamin D3, the heart’s pumping function improved to 34 per cent.
Those on a placebo experienced no change in cardiac function.
Taking the supplement could also reduce the need for patients to have a pacemaker.
The findings from the VINDICATE study will be presented at the American College of Cardiology 65th Annual Scientific Session & Expo in Chicago.
by Tony Whitfield