Q: Does vitamin D help you lose weight?
A: Currently the darling vitamin in the eyes of the media and many scientists, vitamin D has been linked to breast cancer outcomes, and low levels of the nutrient have been associated with a 200-percent increased risk of death in potential cardiac patients.
When it comes to weight loss, low levels of vitamin D are often observed in people who are overweight. It is thought that the hypothalamus (the very small part of your brain that regulates hormonal functions, amongst other things) senses low vitamin D levels and responds by increasing the body weight set point as well as the release of hunger-stimulating hormones. At the cellular level, vitamin D may also prevent the growth and maturation of fat cells.
The direct research looking at vitamin D and weight loss is still growing, but here is a sampling of what has been found so far:
- A 12-week weight-loss study published in Nutrition Journal found that increasing vitamin D levels resulted in decreases in fat mass.
- A 2012 study that looked at the impact of supplementing with both calcium and vitamin D found that this supplementation combination did not increase total weight loss but did lead to an increase in abdominal fat loss.
- A 2010 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that supplementing with vitamin D did not enhance weight loss, but it did improve other markers of health such as decreased triglyceride levels (a risk factor for heart disease) and TNF-alpha, a cellular marker of inflammation.
All of this may make you want to gorge on D, but more isn’t necessarily better; instead the key is keeping your vitamin D levels in the optimum range.
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Simply going outside can help a little. When UVB rays hit your skin, your body photosynthesizes D—hence, it’s called the sunshine vitamin. Unfortunately geographic location plays a major role in the UVB rays that you have access to. If you live above the 37th parallel (which is anywhere approximately around San Francisco and Denver or above Tennessee and South Carolina), then the UVB rays won’t be right for you to make vitamin D. And even if you do live in the right place, other factors such as pollution and cloud cover can also impact how much vitamin D you will get while out in the sun.
From a dietary perspective, fatty fish are the major source, and fortified juices, milk, and cereals can also contribute to your daily intake.
When all these contributors are summed up, you will probably find that you are falling short of where you need to be. This is why I recommend that everyone supplement with 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D a day. This level of supplementation is less than the tolerable upper limit for vitamin D safety.
Lastly, you can also get a simple, non-fasted blood test to determine your D levels and then work with your doctor to coordinate the needed supplementation to optimize vitamin D for you and your health.