Low levels of vitamin D can trigger high blood pressure, a new study shows.
British scientists have demonstrated a direct genetic link between lacking the "sunshine" vitamin and hypertension, or high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart attacks and stroke.
The study suggests vitamin D supplements may help at-risk patients avoid heart and artery disease.
Vitamin D is mainly made in the skin as a reaction to sunlight but may also be obtained from foods such as oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereal.
But some people are less able than others to turn "raw" vitamin D into its biologically active form.
The researchers looked for genetic markers linked to higher or lower levels of metabolised vitamin D.
They found that for every 10 per cent increase in concentrations of the 25-hydroxyvitamin form of vitamin D, the risk of developing high blood pressure fell by 8.1 per cent.
The findings were presented at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics in Paris, France.
Inadequate levels of vitamin D are common throughout the western world. A lack of vitamin D in childhood can lead to rickets which causes long bones to weaken and bend.
A number of other conditions may also be related to vitamin D deficiency, including mental impairment, auto-immune diseases and cancer.
Lead scientist Vimal Karani, from the Institute of Child Health at University College London said the study strongly suggested that some cases of cardiovascular disease could be prevented through vitamin D supplements or food fortification.
"Our new data provide further support for the important non-skeletal effects of vitamin D. We now intend to continue this work by examining the causal relationship between vitamin D status and other cardiovascular disease-related outcomes," Dr Karani said.