Taking daily vitamin D supplements could reduce the risk of heart disease, new research has found.
Scientists from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh gave a number of patients the treatment over a two-week period and found these individuals had lower blood pressure and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than individuals who received a placebo over the same period.
Previous research has suggested vitamin D can block the enzyme needed to create cortisol, which can lead to blood pressure being raised by restricting arteries, narrowing blood vessels and stimulating the kidneys to retain water.
Vitamin D can be obtained by eating oily fish and eggs, but it is difficult to receive a sufficient amount from diet alone. The majority of people generate the vitamin when their skin is exposed to the ultraviolet B rays in sunlight.
For elderly care patients, whose exposure to the sun may be limited by spending the majority of time indoors, supplements could prove an effective means of obtaining a sufficient level of vitamin D and potentially reducing the risk of heart disease.
Lead author of the research Dr Emad Al-Dujaili stated: "Vitamin D deficiency is a silent syndrome linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and a higher risk for certain cancers.
"Our study adds to the body of evidence showing the importance of tackling this widespread problem."
The research also revealed that daily vitamin D supplements may improve exercise performance. Those patients who received the treatment were able to cycle 6.5km in 20 minutes, compared to just 5km at the start of the experiment and also showed lower signs of physical exertion than their placebo counterparts.
Around ten million people in England may have low vitamin D levels and this figure rises in winter when sun exposure is reduced. People with darker skin are most at risk, as this skin type is less efficient at using sunlight to make the vitamin.