It’s not just your mood that the dark months of winter can influence. Low levels of sunlight also mean lower levels of vitamin D in the body. Vitamin D deficiency can trigger a range of diseases, but until recently little was known about the exact biological mechanisms behind this. A research team at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria, has now decrypted one of these unknown molecular mechanisms. Vitamin D regulates the elasticity of blood vessels and thus also affects blood pressure amplitude. The results were published in the January 2014 issue of Molecular Endocrinology. UV-B radiation in sunlight is the most important factor for the production of vitamin D, and that is why many people suffer from low levels of vitamin D during the winter months. Although certain foods do contain vitamin D, it is not usually possible to get an adequate supply of the vitamin from food. Many clinical studies have indicated that low vitamin D levels are related to cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, but also other diseases such as diabetes mellitus, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms were unclear. The two primary authors of the Molecular Endocrinology article, molecular biologist Dr. Olena Andrukhova and medical doctor Svetlana Slavic, of the Institute of Physiology, Pathophysiology, and Biophysics at the Vetmeduni Vienna, found that prolonged vitamin D deficiency can stiffen blood vessels. Examining the aorta, an elastic blood vessel that expands with each pulse of blood and then constricts again, the researchers showed that vitamin D deficiency makes the vessel less flexible. Dr. Andrukhova explains in detail: "Vitamin D enhances the production of the enzyme eNOS (endothelial nitric oxide synthase) in the inner layer of blood vessels, the endothelium.
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