You have no doubt heard that excess fat, corn syrup, sugary drinks and high-fructose, high-starch diets will boost your belt line and add pounds to your physique. Well, according to a recent study, if you’re a woman there’s another way to tilt your scales: Just remain vitamin D deficient.
Kaiser Permanente, which conducted the study that was published online recently in the Journal of Women’s Health, tracked more than 4,600 women aged 65 and older for about 54 months. Researchers with the company found that women who had lower levels of vitamin D in their blood gained about two pounds more than women who maintained adequate levels.
Doesn’t sound like much of a big deal, right? Well, maybe not at first blush, but over time, it could definitely make more of a difference, researchers said.
“This is one of the first studies to show that women with low levels of vitamin D gain more weight, and although it was only two pounds, over time that can add up,” study author Dr. Erin LeBlanc, an endocrinologist and researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore., said.
Vitamin D, which has been labeled the “sunshine vitamin” because most Americans get it from the sun, works to maintain stronger bones and muscles by encouraging the absorption and metabolism of both calcium and phosphorus. It also keeps our nervous system healthy.
By far, the sun’s rays are our primary source of vitamin D, but it can also be found in milk/dairy products, fatty fish and food items “fortified” with it, such as cereals and some juices. It also comes as a supplement.
Despite all of these sources, however, earlier research has found that women – and older women, especially – tend not to get enough vitamin D.
The Kaiser study, for example, found that nearly 80 percent of the women researchers tracked were not getting enough vitamin D – from any of the many sources. Scientists concluded that, since the sun is the vitamin’s primary source, it was possible that older women don’t spend enough time outside. It could also mean they have a poor diet, researchers concluded.
LeBlanc said the study was conducted among older women who weren’t necessarily trying to lose weight, though some did as a natural result of aging. The study found that about 60 percent of the women remained at a stable weight while 27 percent lost more than five percent body weight while 12 percent gained more than five percent of their initial body weight.
“Our study only shows an association between insufficient levels of vitamin D and weight gain, we would need to do more studies before recommending the supplements to keep people from gaining weight,” she said. “Since there are so many conflicting recommendations about taking vitamin D for any reason, it’s best if patients get advice from their own health care provider.”
An earlier study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota, whose results were published in 2009, found a similar link between sufficient vitamin D levels and weight loss.
“Vitamin D deficiency is associated with obesity, but it is not clear if inadequate vitamin D causes obesity or the other way around,” said the study’s lead author, Shalamar Sibley, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota. “Our results suggest the possibility that the addition of vitamin D to a reduced-calorie diet will lead to better weight loss.”
In that study, researchers wanted to know whether baseline vitamin D levels before beginning a calorie-restrictive diet would affect subsequent weight loss. The results? On average, researchers found that pre-diet vitamin D levels were accurate at predicting weight loss.