Does sufficient evidence exist to support a causal association between vitamin D status and cardiovascular disease risk? An assessment using Hill’s criteria for causality

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Abstract

Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) levels have been found to be inversely associated with both prevalent and incident cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors; dyslipidemia, hypertension and diabetes mellitus. This review looks for evidence of a causal association between low 25(OH)D levels and increased CVD risk. We evaluated journal articles in light of Hill's criteria for causality in a biological system. The results of our assessment are as follows. Strength of association: many randomized controlled trials (RCTs), prospective and cross-sectional studies found statistically significant inverse associations between 25(OH)D levels and CVD risk factors. Consistency of observed association: most studies found statistically significant inverse associations between 25(OH)D levels and CVD risk factors in various populations, locations and circumstances. Temporality of association: many RCTs and prospective studies found statistically significant inverse associations between 25(OH)D levels and CVD risk factors. Biological gradient (dose-response curve): most studies assessing 25(OH)D levels and CVD risk found an inverse association exhibiting a linear biological gradient. Plausibility of biology: several plausible cellular-level causative mechanisms and biological pathways may lead from a low 25(OH)D level to increased risk for CVD with mediators, such as dyslipidemia, hypertension and diabetes mellitus. Experimental evidence: some well-designed RCTs found increased CVD risk factors with decreasing 25(OH)D levels. Analogy: the association between serum 25(OH)D levels and CVD risk is analogous to that between 25(OH)D levels and the risk of overall cancer, periodontal disease, multiple sclerosis and breast cancer. CONCLUSION: all relevant Hill criteria for a causal association in a biological system are satisfied to indicate a low 25(OH)D level as a CVD risk factor.

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Weyland, P. G., Grant, W. B., & Howie-Esquivel, J. (2014). Does sufficient evidence exist to support a causal association between vitamin D status and cardiovascular disease risk? An assessment using Hill’s criteria for causality. Nutrients, 6(9), 3403–3430. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6093403

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