Vitamin D increased my cholesterol

A friend told me this story.

Her friend, Linda, had added vitamin D to her daily supplements. Because she’d had a vitamin D blood level of 22 ng/ml, she was taking 6000 units per day.

However, Linda also had a high cholesterol value with a total cholesterol of 231 mg/dl. After several months on the vitamin D, she had another cholesterol panel. Total cholesterol: 256 mg/dl.

“It must have been the vitamin D! So I stopped it right away.”

Is this true? Does vitamin D raise the level of blood cholesterol? Yes, it does. But it’s a good thing. Let me explain.

Followers of The Heart Scan Blog know that total cholesterol is really a mix of 3 other factors:

Total cholesterol = LDL cholesterol + HDL cholesterol + triglycerides/5

This is the Friedewald equation, still used today in over 95% of cholesterol panels. So, by the Friedewald equation, anything that increases LDL, HDL, or triglycerides will increase total cholesterol.

One of the spectacular changes that develops over a year of taking vitamin D is that HDL cholesterol skyrockets. While sensitivity to this effect varies (probably on a genetic basis), HDL increases of 10, 20, even 30 mg/dl are common. A starting HDL, for instance, of 45 mg/dl can jump up to 65 or 70 mg/dl, though the effect requires up to a year, sometimes longer.

Vitamin D can also reduce triglycerides, though the effect is relatively small, usually no more than 20 mg/dl or so. Likewise, the effect on LDL is minor, with a modest reduction in the small type of LDL.

So the dominant effect of vitamin D from a cholesterol standpoint is a substantial increase in HDL. Looking at the equation, you can see that an increase in HDL is accompanied by a commensurate increase in total cholesterol. If HDL goes up 25 mg/dl, total cholesterol goes up 25 mg/dl.

So Linda is absolutely correct: Vitamin D increases cholesterol–but it’s a good thing that reduces risk for heart disease and is an important part of a coronary plaque-reversal program.

This is yet another reason why I advocate elimination of total cholesterol on lipid panels. There is no useful information in the total cholersterol value, only the potential for misinformation.



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38 Responses to Vitamin D increased my cholesterol

  1. Dr. William Davis says:

    Lieta–

    When it comes to vitamin D and wheat elimination, it generally requires about 6 months for full effect to be reflected in your blood work.

    So patience pays!

  2. Dr. William Davis says:

    Anon–

    Niacin or any other agent that increases HDL will likewise increase total cholesterol. It's all good!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Do you have a recommended brand of Vit D3? Does it have to be taken with Vit A (as I've read in some other places)?

    Thanks

  4. Alex says:

    Does the lack of useful information in total cholesterol value extend all the way down to 150 and below, which is the level Joel Fuhrman and others say people should strive for?

  5. Brian says:

    This reminds me of a story that the renowned physicist Richard Feynman told about the poor quality of textbooks he had reviewed, which gave students totally useless problems with no practical purpose.

    His example was a problem that listed the temperature of 3 random stars, and asked the student to calculate the total temperature, a totally meaningless and pointless number that tells you absolutely nothing about anything.

  6. Calculating cholesterol says:

    I have looked at many sites on this subject and not come across a site such as yours which tells everyone everything that they need to know. I have bookmarked your site. Can anyone else suggest any other related topics that I can look for to find out further information?

  7. Kerri Knox says:

    Dr. Davis,

    Do you have any studies to support that vitamin d increases HDL? I've searched it and could find nothing but neutral studies on it or studies in combination with omega's and niacin.

    This study that was ONLY with vitamin d saw no effect.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19352377?dopt=Abstract

    and this study showed that atorvastatin needed adequate vitamin d levels in order to work.

    http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ije/2010/320721.html

    but I couldn't find anything saying that vitamin d raised HDL. Any references that you can refer me to or is this just your observations?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Vitamin D doesn't raise cholesterol – cholesterol uses sunlight to synthesize or create Vitamin D. If you are taking a cholesterol lowering medication, your body can't process the cholesterol to make Vitamin D.

  9. Anonymous says:

    In May 2008 I had a D3 level of 25. Now it's near 80, after 1+ years on 5000 IU of D3 per day. My LDL cholesterol has gone up (it's in the 170s) and my HDL is still low (40-50). HDL has actually changed very little while LDL has increased over time since the first time it was tested in 2002.

    Despite the info presented here, I'm not convinced that there's such a clear relationship between LDL and Vitamin D.

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    So the dominant effect of vitamin D from a cholesterol standpoint is a substantial increase in HDL. Looking at the equation, you can see that an increase in HDL is accompanied by a commensurate increase in total cholesterol. If HDL goes up 25 mg/dl, total cholesterol goes up 25 mg/dl.

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  17. paul says:

    Thanks a lot for the tips. Reduce your cholesterol by taking the necessary vitamins and supplements. Avoid eating fatty food and focus more on eating healthy fats.

    -Supplements Canada

  18. Brian says:

    Vitamin D3 supplements will absolutely increase both your LDL and HDL cholesterol. The impact on each can be quite large. I know people want to believe that supplements can do nothing negative, but it is what it is. All you have to do is buy a Cardiocheck PA meter or the like and test your cholesterol at home. Take 5000 IU per day of vitamin D3 for 2 weeks and recheck — your LDL will go up dramatically, and your HDL will rise as well (and so your total will increase a fair amount). The exact same thing will happen if you get massive amounts of sun without sunscreen over a number of weeks. Who know whether this effect is a good or bad thing — your guess is as good as mine. But I’m always amazed at all the $30 million dollar studies that have to be done to find out what any person can see with a single affordable at-home monitor…

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