Stroke: The ‘very common’ vitamin deficiency ‘doubling’ your risk of having a stroke

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Stroke kills millions of people around the world annually, but the number is receding year on year. Despite lower mortality rates, the burden is still growing as a result of ageing populations. Taking action to ameliorate cardiovascular health through diet and exercise can lower the risk of stroke. One vitamin deficiency, common in the UK, may also need amending to lower your risk.

Vitamin D is essential for many key functions in the body, such as the immune system and bone metabolism.

It is primarily responsible for the regulation of calcium and phosphorous levels.

But there is mounting literature highlighting vitamin D’s associations with cardiovascular health.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins suggest that low levels of vitamin D could double the risk of stroke in white people, but not black people.

READ MORE: Stroke diet: The number of tea or coffees you should drink to lower your risk of stroke

The team were unable to find a reason for this disparity but speculated that it may be because black people are more prone to deficiency due to their skin pigmentation’s ability to block out sun rays.

Erin Michos, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Heart and Vascular Institute, theorised that black people may have adapted to this deficiency over generations.

“It may be that blacks have adapted over the generations to vitamin D deficiency, so we are not going to see any compounding effects with stroke,” he noted.

“Higher numbers for hypertension and diabetes definitely explain some of the excess risks for stroke in black compared to white but not this much risk.

“Something else is surely behind this problem. However, don’t blame vitamin D deficits for the higher risk of strokes in blacks.”

Separate studies have also noted that the strong association between vitamin D levels and stroke in white people is limited to individuals who are severely deficient.

Other studies have contended that the view that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for stroke is wrong, suggesting that low vitamin D levels are a consequence of a stroke incident instead.

There is other evidence that vitamin D supplements could lower stroke risk and improve recovery.

“Our findings not only demonstrated a direct impact of vitamin D on the degree of inflammation and secondary brain injury that developed following a stroke but indicated that […] supplementation could limit the resulting injury,” wrote the authors of one study.

Where to find vitamin D?

“Vitamin D Deficiency is very common. It’s estimated that about one billion people worldwide have low blood levels of the vitamin,” according to Healthline.

However, levels are exceptionally low in the UK and other countries when sunshine is scarce.

This is because vitamin D is produced in the skin through the action of sunlight.

So, during the winter months, the nutrient has to be sourced from food.

Eggs, fatty fish, chicken and beef liver are all excellent sources of vitamin D, as are fortified milk, yoghurt and some breakfast cereals.

Daily vitamin D supplementation is recommended for everybody living in the UK during the winter months.

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