The study involving more than 10,000 Danes and was conducted by the University of Copenhagen in collaboration with Copenhagen University Hospital.
"We have now examined the association between a low level of vitamin D and ischemic heart disease and death in the largest study to date," said Dr Peter Brondum-Jacobsen, Clinical Biochemical Department, Copenhagen University Hospital.
"We observed that low levels of vitamin D compared to optimal levels are linked to 40 per cent higher risk of ischemic heart disease, 64 per cent higher risk of heart attack, 57 per cent higher risk of early death, and to no less than 81 per cent higher risk of death from heart disease," he said in a statement.
Vitamin D deficiency has traditionally been linked with poor bone health. However, the results from several population studies indicate that its low level may also be linked to a higher risk of ischemic heart disease, a designation that covers heart attack, coronary arteriosclerosis and angina.
Other studies show that vitamin D deficiency may increase blood pressure, and it is well known that high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack.
The higher risks are visible, even after adjustment for several factors that can influence the level of vitamin D and the risk of disease and death.
Levels of vitamin D were measured in blood samples of study participants from 1981-1983. They were then followed in the nationwide Danish registries up to the present.
"With this type of population study, we are unable to say anything definitive about a possible causal relationship. But we can ascertain that there is a strong statistical correlation between a low level of vitamin D and high risk of heart disease and early death," said Borge Nordestgaard, clinical professor at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen.
"The explanation may be that a low level of vitamin D directly leads to heart disease and death. However, it is also possible that vitamin deficiency is a marker for poor health generally," he added.
The study was published in the American journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.