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Want to Reduce Your Risk of High Blood Pressure? Get a Tan!

A study published in the November 2008 edition of Hypertension found that people with lower levels of vitamin D have an elevated risk for developing high blood pressure. Vitamin D is most commonly acquired through exposure to sun, although many foods are now fortified with it.

Researchers from the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston included 1,484 healthy women between the ages of 32 and 52 for the study. Participants were acquired from the second Nurses Health Study and compared to a control group of similar age and race.

The researchers tested the participant's levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, a protein used to measure vitamin D levels in blood. Overall, 65.7% of the women analyzed were vitamin D deficient.

When compared to participants with the highest levels of vitamin D, those with the lowest had a 66% increase in high blood pressure risk. Compared to participants with sufficient vitamin D levels, those with the lowest amounts had a 47% increase in risk for developing high blood pressure.

Estimates on the rate of vitamin D deficiencies in the U.S. vary from about 23% of the population to as high as 60%. But what most experts agree on is that the number is way too high. That may be why some are calling for an increase in the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin D.

Currently the RDA for adults under 50 years old is 200 IU. For people between 51 and 70 years old the RDA is 400 IU and those over 70 years old should get at least 600 IU per day. Many doctors believe that number should be closer to 2,000 IU for all adults, regardless of age.

Beyond blood pressure and heart health, vitamin D has been associated with a number of other health benefits. It has been shown to increase calcium absorption, stimulate the immune system, regulate cell growth and protect against certain cancers.

There are two forms of vitamin D, D2 and D3. Vitamin D3 is created in our skin after exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D2 is synthesized from plants. Studies suggest that vitamin D3 is much more potent than D2, although many food products and supplements use D2 because it is less expensive.

The traditional way to increase vitamin D intake is to get more sun. This can prove difficult because as you age your skin becomes less efficient at synthesizing the vitamin. The problem is made worse for those living in areas that don't get a lot of sun.

Even if you live in an area that gets plenty of sun year-round, there is always the risk of skin cancer. A safe alternative to lying by the pool may be to take a high quality supplement, or consume more foods fortified with vitamin D. Fish, milk products and many cereals either contain vitamin D naturally, or are fortified with the vitamin.
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