THURSDAY, June 26, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Low levels of vitamin D may be a cause of high blood pressure, according to a new study.

Previous research has suggested a strong link between low levels of vitamin D and high blood pressure, but a direct cause-and-effect relationship has not been shown.

Vitamin D is nicknamed the sunshine vitamin because the body produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. People also get vitamin D through foods such as eggs, milk, yogurt, tuna, salmon, cereal and orange juice.

In the new study, researchers analyzed genetic data from more than 146,500 people of European descent in Europe and North America. For each 10 percent increase in vitamin D levels, there was an 8 percent decrease in the risk of developing high blood pressure (or "hypertension").

The study was published online June 25 in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

"In view of the costs and side effects associated with antihypertensive drugs, the potential to prevent or reduce blood pressure and therefore the risk of hypertension with vitamin D is very attractive," study leader Elina Hypponen, a professor from the University of South Australia, said in a journal news release.

But, while the study findings hint at a causal relationship, according to the study authors, it doesn't definitively prove the link.

Further research is needed to confirm that low levels of vitamin D can cause high blood pressure and that taking vitamin D supplements can reduce that risk, Hypponen said.

While the study is "an important step" in understanding how vitamin D levels may influence the development of high blood pressure, "much remains unknown," Dr. Shoaib Afzal and Dr. Borge Nordestgaard, from Copenhagen University Hospital and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

They said further studies and clinical trials to prove that vitamin D supplementation can prevent or treat high blood pressure are needed before this approach could be recommended.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains how to prevent high blood pressure.