Vitamin D supplements might do more harm than good for African-American patients

March 19, 2016

The research team determined the relationship between circulating vitamin D levels and arterial calcium in 340 black men and women with type 2 diabetes. Calcium can deposit in blood vessel walls forming a bone-like material called "calcified atherosclerotic plaque" and this plaque can be detected by computed tomography (CT) scans. Calcified atherosclerotic plaque is a reliable predictor of risk for heart attack and stroke. The investigators measured vitamin D levels in all study participants and then performed a CT scan to detect calcium in the heart and major arteries.

"We found that higher circulating levels of vitamin D in blacks were associated with more calcium in the artery walls," Freedman said. "This is the opposite effect of what is felt to occur in white patients and shows that the accepted "normal" range of vitamin D may be different between blacks and whites.

"Many of these study patients would be placed on supplemental vitamin D by their physicians simply because their levels were felt to be in the low range." Freedman added that physicians should use caution in supplementing vitamin D levels in blacks - especially if they do not have weak bones or other reasons to take this vitamin - until the effects of supplementing vitamin D on blood vessels and heart disease are better understood.

"Doctors frequently prescribe supplemental vitamin D," Freedman said. "However, we do not know all of its effects and how they may differ between the races. The bottom line is that racial differences in calcium handling are seen and black and white patients have differing risk for bone and heart disease. We should more clearly determine the effects of supplementing vitamin D in black patients with low levels based on existing criteria and should not assume that the effects of supplementation will be the same between the races."

Source: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center