It’s a simple test. Quick and essentially painless. You’ll be in and out of the doctor’s office in mere minutes.
At-home kits are even available which require just a single drop of blood.
But if you have heart surgery scheduled, what it reveals could literally save your life.
I’m talking about testing for vitamin D.
Regular Healthier Talk readers know many of us become deficient in this critical vitamin as we age. Some experts estimate that up to three quarters of the general adult population could be running low in vitamin D.
And older folks are especially vulnerable. In one study, a shocking 88 percent of the seniors tested had a deficiency.
Most of us tend to spend a bit less time outdoors than we used to, which can contribute to dropping D levels.
But if you’re a senior, or ill, you’re even more likely to not be getting enough sun. Plus as we age, our bodies become less efficient at making vitamin D.
Heart surgery patients often vitamin D deficient
Research has linked vitamin D deficiency to an increased risk for cognitive decline, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, heart attack and stroke.
So it’s really no surprise to find that folks scheduled for open heart surgery are often deficient. But experts say the problem just gets worse as stress before and after surgery drives those numbers down even further.
And that’s a real problem because there’s growing evidence that vitamin D deficiency is “strongly associated with heart disease and death,” according to Dr. Brent Muhlestein.
Muhlestein is the lead author of a new study on vitamin D and heart surgery presented at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Session in Orlando last month.
The new study confirmed that a group of open heart surgery patients generally had low vitamin D levels before surgery. And that the stress of surgery drove their levels down even further by the time they left the hospital.
Vitamin D before & after heart surgery reduces risk
However, when patients took large doses of vitamin D3 supplements before and after surgery, there were far fewer cases of D deficiency. And that, of course could lead to better recovery, and less risk for further heart complications including stroke, heart attack and high blood pressure.
Another study from a few years ago found heart bypass patients with low levels of D had over triple the risk of dying after surgery. Those with the lowest levels were four times more likely to die in the three months following their operation.
Now if you’re facing heart surgery this of course doesn’t mean you should simply start popping vitamin D. Your first step is to take a test to find out if your numbers are in fact low.
The same goes for folks with high blood pressure, diabetes or memory problems who are concerned about their levels. Deficiencies ARE common. But test first.
If you find your D levels aren’t where they should be, then it’s time to get a thumbs up from your doctor. Make an appointment to discuss your results and talk with him about taking supplements.
How to raise your vitamin D levels naturally
If you haven’t taken a test yet, but suspect your vitamin D levels may be low, you can start turning them around right away.
As I mentioned earlier your body makes its own vitamin D. But you have to give it the raw material it needs. And that means spending more time in the sunshine with as much skin exposed as you can politely manage.
Skip the sunscreen and head outdoors (close to noon, if possible) with uncovered arms and legs for 15 to 20 minutes a day. Then you can move to the shade, cover up or use a safer sunscreen. Our friends at the Environmental Working Group recommend zinc oxide, avobenzome or mexoryl SX in their Annual Guide to Sunscreens.
You can boost your vitamin D levels through your diet too. Eating more vitamin D rich foods is an easy way to raise your levels safely.
Vitamin D rich foods include…
- cod liver oil
- wild-caught, fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel
- grass-fed beef liver
Since vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, make sure you’re eating plenty of healthy fats too. And don’t forgot your probiotics; good gut health is critical for absorbing the vitamin D you’re getting through your diet.
If you do take a supplement make, sure you’re choosing vitamin D3. Read labels and avoid the cheaper vitamin D2, which isn’t absorbed or used as efficiently.
If you’re facing heart surgery, don’t go under the knife without having your D levels checked and asking your doc about supplements. It could literally save your life.