Cholesterol and Vitamin D: How Are They Connected?
Vitamin D and cholesterol metabolism are closely connected.
Without cholesterol, your body can’t produce vitamin D, and without adequate vitamin D, you may be at increased risk of imbalanced cholesterol levels and heart disease.
Let’s take a look at the link between cholesterol and vitamin D status and how vitamin D supplementation promotes healthy cholesterol and supports cardiovascular function.
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is produced when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation in sunlight.
UVB rays can penetrate the skin’s epidermal layer, triggering a biochemical chain reaction that converts the precursor 7-dehydrocholesterol to vitamin D3.
Vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption and bone health and supports several immune system functions. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, and osteoporosis.
Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is common. Factors including lack of adequate sunlight, geographical location, a darker skin tone, age, and steroid drugs can significantly impact vitamin D production, which may explain why more than 40 percent of U.S. adults are believed to be vitamin D deficient.
While oily fish, egg yolks, and some fortified foods contain vitamin D, these food sources typically don’t deliver enough vitamin D to support healthy vitamin D levels.
Watch the video below to learn more about the link between cholesterol and vitamin D.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance essential for many physiological functions, including cellular regeneration and hormone production.
The role of cholesterol in health is often misunderstood, and there’s a common misconception that all cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease. However, whether cholesterol has any adverse health effects depends on the type of lipoprotein that carries cholesterol through the bloodstream.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as dangerous cholesterol, can build up in the walls of arteries, causing atherosclerosis and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In contrast, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), often called good cholesterol, is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and helps to remove harmful LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.
Rather than only relying on total cholesterol levels to determine heart disease risk, a more accurate blood marker to assess cardiovascular risk factors is the ratio between HDL and LDL cholesterol.
Research confirms that cholesterol profiles characterized by high LDL and low HDL cholesterol significantly impact cardiovascular health and increase atherosclerosis risk. On the other hand, a high HDL to low LDL cholesterol ratio supports heart health and may prevent clogged arteries and heart attacks.
Why cholesterol is essential for vitamin D production
When UVB rays penetrate the skin, they trigger the photochemical conversion of the vitamin D precursor 7-dehydrocholesterol to cholecalciferol, also known as vitamin D3. Without adequate levels of this cholesterol-containing precursor, the body cannot produce enough vitamin D.
Cholesterol is also crucial for producing bile salts needed to digest and absorb fat-soluble nutrients, including vitamin D. This explains why a low-cholesterol diet can impact vitamin D production in the skin and may lower intestinal vitamin D absorption.
Interestingly, the relationship between cholesterol and vitamin D is two-directional. While cholesterol is needed to produce vitamin D, research suggests that vitamin D deficiency can contribute to cholesterol imbalance.
This study found that individuals with low vitamin D levels are likelier to have elevated triglycerides and LDL cholesterol than those with optimal vitamin D status. It also appears that vitamin D repletion, the correction of vitamin D deficiency, supports healthy HDL levels and is associated with a lower risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.
Can statins reduce vitamin D?
Statins are a group of drugs that block cholesterol-producing pathways to lower total cholesterol serum levels. This cholesterol reduction can lead to lower cellular levels of 7-dehydrocholesterol needed for normal vitamin D synthesis.
Despite several studies investigating the link between statins and vitamin D, further research is needed to fully understand if the cholesterol-lowering effects of statins impact vitamin D levels.
If you are taking statins, you may benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement to support optimal levels. Regular serum vitamin D tests are beneficial to determine your vitamin D status and help to guide appropriate supplementation dosage to maintain healthy levels without the risk of vitamin D toxicity.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) published a report suggesting that vitamin D serum levels of 20 ng/mL or above are adequate for most people to support overall health, and levels below 12 ng/mL are considered deficient and may increase the risk of bone issues and heart disease.
Vitamin D and cholesterol metabolism are closely linked. While cholesterol is needed to produce vitamin D, healthy vitamin D status supports balanced cholesterol levels and lowers the risk of heart disease.
Although further research is needed to determine the role of statins regarding vitamin D status, regular blood tests to assess vitamin D levels are recommended for anyone taking cholesterol-lowering medications.
Vitamin D supplementation is an easy and convenient way to support optimal vitamin D levels, which can help to increase HDL cholesterol and may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
1. Does vitamin D help your cholesterol levels?
Yes, evidence suggests that vitamin D increases HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol linked to a lower risk of arterial plaque formation and heart disease.
2. Does lack of vitamin D cause high cholesterol?
Yes, low vitamin D is linked to high LDL. Individuals with vitamin D deficiency appear at increased risk of having an atherogenic lipid profile characterized by imbalanced lipid levels and elevated LDL cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol linked to the narrowing of arteries and cardiovascular disease.
3. Should I stop taking vitamin D if I have high cholesterol?
No, there’s no evidence that taking a vitamin D supplement causes elevated cholesterol. In fact, vitamin D has been found to promote a balanced HDL-to-LDL ratio linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
4. What is the best vitamin to take to lower cholesterol?
Vitamins D and B3 have been found to increase beneficial HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol, supporting a balanced HDL-to-LDL ratio, which is believed to lower the risk of clogged arteries, heart attacks, and stroke.
5. Can low cholesterol reduce vitamin D levels?
Yes, the precursor to vitamin D, 7-dehydrocholesterol, is a cholesterol-containing sterol, and a lack of adequate cholesterol can significantly impact vitamin D production and lead to vitamin D deficiency.
6. Does cholesterol help increase vitamin D?
Yes, cholesterol plays an essential role in vitamin D production. When UVB rays in sunlight hit the skin, a cholesterol-containing precursor undergoes a biochemical conversion that forms vitamin D3.
7. Can statins reduce vitamin D?
Although more research is needed to confirm the link between vitamin D deficiency and statins, it’s recommended to perform regular vitamin D blood tests when taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Statins reduce circulating cholesterol levels which may lead to lower cellular concentrations of 7-dehydrocholesterol needed to produce vitamin D.
8. What are the signs of low vitamin D levels?
Muscle weakness, bone pain, depression, fatigue, insomnia, susceptibility to infection, and hair loss are common signs of low vitamin D levels.