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Having low levels of vitamin D may put you at greater risk for peripheral arterial disease, a common condition that reduces blood flow to the legs and can cause cramping and pain, as well as more serious complications.
In a medical study published online in April, researchers looked at data from nearly 4,900 adults aged 40 or older who submitted blood samples and were tested for peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Those with the lowest levels of vitamin D had an 80-percent higher risk of having PAD.
In some earlier studies, low vitamin D levels were also associated with higher numbers of coronary heart disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure, though not all the research was consistent.
Men and women over the age of 50 need 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily, and 600 IU daily after the age of 71. Good food sources include cooked salmon (360 IU per 3.5 ounces), sardines (250 IU in 1.75 ounces), and fortified milk (98 IU per cup). Your body also produces vitamin D when you're exposed to sunlight; just a few minutes of sunlight on your face and arms at least twice a week may be enough, though this varies due to factors like your location and your skin complexion.
Medical experts aren't in agreement about whether people in general need supplemental vitamin D, but your doctor can advise you about your particular needs.
Sources: Medical studies, news reports
Learn more about peripheral arterial disease screening
Learn more about stroke screening
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