Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Weight Gain in Older Women

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I just wrote a sharepost on HealthCentral’s menopause site concerning how many women over the age of 50 suffer from poor body images. According to a study out of the University of North Carolina, 61 percent of participants described their weight or shape as having a negative impact on their life while 64 percent thought about their weight or body shape daily. More than 70 percent of participants reported dieting, while some women were resorting to purging, excessive exercise, diet pills and diuretics to try to control their body shape.

    But what if one of the ways to battle weight gain as we age is linked to vitamin D? New research out of Oregon’s Kaiser Permanente Center found that older women who have low levels of vitamin D may more readily gain weight. In this study, researchers followed 4,659 women who were age 65 and above for nearly five years.  The study, which is part of a larger project called the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures, involved analyzing data collected during medical office and home visits, mailed surveys and telephone calls.

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    Over the study period, researchers found that 27 percent of the study participants lost more than five percent of their body weight while 12 percent gained more than five percent of their body weight, even though most of the women overall were not  trying to change their weight. (About 60 percent remained at a stable weight, considered five-percent of their weight at the start of the study.) Of those who gained weight, women who had low levels of vitamin D gained 18.5 pounds during the course of the period, as compared to the 16.4 pounds gained by the women who had normal vitamin D levels.

    "Our study only shows an association between insufficient levels of vitamin D and weight gain," Dr. Erin LeBlanc, an endocrinologist and Kaiser Permanente researcher who served as the lead author, said in a press release. "We would need to do more studies before recommending the supplements to keep people from gaining weight. 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."

    It turns out that there are many factors that may contribute to a deficiency in vitamin D. According to the George Mateljan Foundation, these factors include:

    • Lack of exposure to the sun.
    • Issues with dietary fat. “Since vitamin is a fat-soluble vitamin, a diet that is extremely low in fat and/or the presence of certain medical conditions that cause a reduction in the ability to absorb dietary fat may cause vitamin D deficiency,” the foundation noted.
    • Health issues with a parathyroid gland or kidney, which may impair the synthesis of vitamin D.
    • Aging.  “The production of vitamin D precursors in the skin decreases with age,” the foundation stated. “Additionally, with age the kidneys and many other organ systems and cell types are less able to convert vitamin D to its active hormone form.”
    • Genetic susceptibility. Some individuals’ genetics cause them to have vitamin D receptors that do not work efficiently. Therefore, these individuals need more vitamin D than normally recommended.

    There are signs indicating that a person is not getting enough vitamin D, according the George Mateljan Foundation. These signs include:

    • Muscle aches and muscle weakness.
    • Frequent falls.
    • Bone pain, frequent bone fractures or soft bones.
    • Impaired cognitive function.
    • Lowered immunity.
    • Chronic low energy and fatigue.
    • Depression.
    • Presence of an autoimmune disorder.
    • Lack of exposure to sunlight, whether due to geography, use of sunscreen or protective clothing.

    So how can women ensure that they are getting adequate amounts of vitamin D? The Mayo Clinic reports that this vitamin can be found in many dietary sources, including fish, eggs, fortified milk and cod liver oil. The George Mateljan Foundation points to the best dietary sources of vitamin D as salmon, sardines, goat’s milk, milk, shiitake mushrooms and eggs. Furthermore, wild-caught salmon has been found to have significantly more vitamin D than non-organically farmed fish.

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    You also can get vitamin D through sun exposure. Dr. Andrew Weil, who is a clinical professor of medicine and director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, suggested following the formula laid out by vitamin D researcher Dr. Michael Holick. Weil explains, “In brief and in general, Dr. Holick advises estimating the time it would take your skin to turn pink in the sun. Then divide that time by 25 to 50 percent, depending on your skin type. So, someone like you who has fair skin, burns easily and lives in Pennsylvania would be advised to spend 20-30 minutes in the sun with your arms and legs exposed (not your face) between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. two to three times a week from March through May and September through October but only 15-20 minutes in July and August when the sun in strongest. If you remain outdoors longer than the specified time, apply sunscreen.”

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    DrWeil.com. (2010). How much sun exposure for vitamin D?

    George Mateljan Foundation. (N.D.). Vitamin D.

    Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. (2012). Low vitamin D levels linked to weight gain in some older women.

    Mayo Clinic. (2011). Vitamin D.

Published On: June 28, 2012