Researchers Link Obesity to Vitamin D Deficiency

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A British research team has linked the risk of vitamin D deficiency to obesity. Reducing obesity, they maintain, should help cut the current worldwide level of deficiency of this important vitamin.

Although earlier research noted a link between obesity and vitamin D deficiency, this is the first study to try to determine causality: Whether deficiency led to gaining weight or if obesity could cause the vitamin deficiency, according to Medical News Today. University College London Institute of Child Health (ICH) researchers led the study and published their findings in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Vitamin D is a nutrient most often associated with maintaining strong bones by helping the body absorb calcium, the U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements reports. It also helps muscles, nerves, and the immune system do their respective jobs.

The British study utilized genetic markers found after analyzing 21 adult groups of up to 42,000 subjects. Scientists studied the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and genes with a role in vitamin D production and metabolism. They also confirmed the link between BMI and vitamin D with data from another group of more than 123,000 subjects.

An individual's BMI determines whether he or she is obese or merely overweight, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Medical professionals also consider it a good marker for estimating the risk for diseases associated with being overweight or obese.

The ICH researchers noted that a jump of 10 percent in BMI was associated with a 4 percent fall in vitamin D concentration. They concluded that a higher BMI results in lower levels of vitamin D available to the body, but that a lack of the vitamin apparently has only a very limited effect on BMI. These results were consistent between men and women and among all age groups.

Prior studies have found that using mega doses of vitamin D2 increases the energy that rats burn. However, trials to determine how vitamin D supplements affect the weight of obese or overweight subjects have yielded inconsistent conclusions. The ICH study suggests that because obese individuals have a greater capacity to store vitamin D than the rest of the population, they experience lower concentrations of the vitamin circulating through their bodies.

In the last decade, vitamin D deficiency has become a global health concern. When I experienced symptoms of a deficiency two years ago, my doctor ordered a test to measure my level of the vitamin. My BMI flip-flopped between being overweight and obese.

My vitamin D level was shockingly low. I took a huge weekly prescription of vitamin D for six months to get to the bottom of the normal range. Once I shed 20 pounds, "normal" was easier to maintain with an over-the-counter product. Based on my experience, a link between the risk of vitamin D deficiency and obesity isn't surprising.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.

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