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Research shows why low vitamin D raises heart disease risks in diabetics
Date:8/21/2009

Aug. 21, 2009 -- Low levels of vitamin D are known to nearly double the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with diabetes, and researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis now think they know why.

They have found that diabetics deficient in vitamin D can't process cholesterol normally, so it builds up in their blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. The new research has identified a mechanism linking low vitamin D levels to heart disease risk and may lead to ways to fix the problem, simply by increasing levels of vitamin D.

"Vitamin D inhibits the uptake of cholesterol by cells called macrophages," says principal investigator Carlos Bernal-Mizrachi, M.D., a Washington University endocrinologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. "When people are deficient in vitamin D, the macrophage cells eat more cholesterol, and they can't get rid of it. The macrophages get clogged with cholesterol and become what scientists call foam cells, which are one of the earliest markers of atherosclerosis."

Macrophages are dispatched by the immune system in response to inflammation and often are activated by diseases such as diabetes. Bernal-Mizrachi and his colleagues believe that in diabetic patients with inadequate vitamin D, macrophages become loaded with cholesterol and eventually stiffen blood vessels and block blood flow.

Bernal-Mizrachi, an assistant professor of medicine and of cell biology and physiology, studied macrophage cells taken from people with and without diabetes and with and without vitamin D deficiency. His team, led by research assistants Jisu Oh and Sherry Weng, M.D., exposed the cells to cholesterol and to high or low vitamin D levels. When vitamin D levels were low in the culture dish, macrophages from diabetic patients were much more likely to become foam cells.

In the Aug. 25 issue of the journal Circulation, which currently is available online, the team re
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Contact: Jim Dryden
jdryden@wustl.edu
314-286-0110
Washington University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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