Low levels of vitamin D in childhood appear to be associated with signs of atherosclerosis in adulthood. A Finnish study has found that adults who had been deficient in vitamin D before age 18 were more likely to have some thickening of an artery in their necks when they were between age 30 and 45.
The study looked at 2,148 people in the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study who were between ages 3 and 18 when they enrolled in the study in 1980. They were re-examined at ages 30 to 45 in 2007 and measurements of the inner walls of the carotid arteries in their necks were taken by ultrasound. The walls of the carotid arteries serve as a way to evaluate structural atherosclerosis, which correlates with cardiovascular risk factors, and which can predict cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. The childhood blood levels of vitamin D in these participants were determined in 2010 from stored blood samples.
The researchers found that the adults who were in the lowest fourth of vitamin D levels in childhood had 70% higher odds--a significant increase--of having walls in their carotid arteries thickened enough that they were at high risk as adults. The rise in odds was significant both in men and women. The data was adjusted for age, sex, and adult risk factors such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure, smoking, diet, and physical activity.
Having too little vitamin D can result from poor nutrition or from inadequate exposure to sunlight. Severe deficiency can result in poor bone growth and with serious bone problems like rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. Vitamin D deficiency is known to be associated with an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.