Chances are you’ve heard a lot about vitamin D in recent years, and maybe even read articles touting this ordinary-seeming nutrient as the secret behind preventing everything from heart attacks to prostate cancer. You may even have heard that popping a vitamin D supplement could kick start your weight loss. Is there any truth to the hype?
Not Just For Bone Health?
It’s long been known that vitamin D combined with calcium is important for bone health–which is itself important, of course. We need the vitamin for healthy bones throughout our entire lives, from infancy to old age. The addition of vitamin D to milk–it’s not found in the food naturally–began in the 1930s in order to prevent rickets in children. Today, rickets is very rare in the United States. But older adults need the vitamin to keep bones strong and help prevent breaks, fractures, and osteoporosis.
There’s also growing evidence that vitamin D may play a wider role in our health. Researchers are looking into the role the vitamin might play in conditions as varied as colorectal cancer, diabetes, depression, and obesity. For example, multiple sclerosis is more common the further one gets from the equator–and those of us who live in colder climates also get less overall exposure to sunlight, which our bodies use to create vitamin D. And a rare genetic defect that results in both low levels of vitamin D and a higher risk of multiple sclerosis has been developed. Could there be a connection?
Vitamin D and Weight Loss
Researchers are also trying to find out if vitamin D plays a role in maintaining a healthy weight. Some research has shown that people with obesity have low blood levels of vitamin D–but that only shows a correlation and doesn’t prove that the two are directly related. We also know that body fat traps vitamin D and makes it harder for the body to access, but a person doesn’t necessarily need to qualify as obese to have high body fat–and many people fall under the classification of being overweight according to BMI, but are actually quite healthy.
A study published last spring in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that certain levels of vitamin D might be associated with weight loss in some postmenopausal women who are overweight. The women in the study were between 50 and 75 years old, and tested for low levels of vitamin D. The women who took 2000 IU of vitamin D each day, in supplements, for 12 months generally showed no differences in weight loss when compared to the control group–but the women who became replete or fully supplied in vitamin D, measured by blood tests, lost more weight than those who didn’t.
There is more research on the role vitamin D might play in weight loss–one study from 2012 found that supplementing with both vitamin D and calcium increased abdominal fat loss, for example–but a lot is still left to be done. It’s simply too soon to say if popping a vitamin D supplement will help you shed pounds. But we do know that we need the vitamin for good health, and it’s worth testing your own vitamin D levels and supplementing as needed. You can see if you are low on vitamin D with a simple blood test–talk to your doctor about getting one. And vitamin D supplements are an easy way to top up your levels, especially if you live in a climate with limited sunshine or don’t often eat foods like milk, oily fish, and eggs.
And during these colder months of the year, many people who may have plenty of vitamin D during the warm summer months could be running low. The Mayo Clinic recommends that adults 18 and old get 600 IU of vitamin D each day, through food or supplements. Seniors who are 70 and older should get 800 IU daily. Osteoporosis Canada recommends even higher doses: 400 to 1000 IU daily for adults up to age 50, and 800 to 2000 IU for those older than 50.
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