Sunshine and coronary heart disease

Part 2: The effect of altitude

The effect of altitude tends to be forgotten, despite the fact that heart disease mortality in the USA had shown a striking inverse correlation with altitude nearly 30 years ago: American populations at the highest altitude had about half the heart disease of sea level populations.[1]

As long ago as 1973, Leaf observed that most of the long-lived populations — the Hunza, Equadorian Vilcabambans and Karakorum Mongols — in the world live at high altitudes.[2]

Dr. Robert Scragg, Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, has repeatedly shown that vitamin D explains many of observations about heart disease. These include the facts that heart disease is higher at higher latitudes, lower altitudes, in the winter, in African Americans, in the elderly, inactive, and more obese patients who are less likely to wear less in public.[3]

Other markers for heart disease: vascular smooth muscle proliferation, reduced vascular calcification, decreased parathormone levels, reduced C reactive protein (CRP) and other markers of inflammation, and decreased rennin which are all predictive of heart disease are improved by vitamin D.[4]


1. Voors AW, Johnson WD. Altitude and arteriosclerotic heart disease mortality in white residents of 99 of the 100 largest cities in the United States. J Chronic Dis 1979; 32: 157-62.
2. Leaf A. Getting old. Sci Am 1973; 229: 44-52.
3. Scragg R. Seasonality of cardiovascular disease mortality and the possible protective effect of ultra-violet radiation. Int J Epidemiol 1981; 10: 337-41.
4. Zittermann A, Schleithoff SS, Koerfer R. Putting cardiovascular disease and vitamin D insufficiency into perspective. Br J Nutr 2005; 94: 483-92

Part 1: Worldwide heart disease patterns | Part 2: Altitude | Part 3: Other cardiac conditions | Part 4: Statins and Vitamin D
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Last updated: December 9, 2011