Vitamin D deficiency can cause you to gain more weight. Conversely, vitamin D supplementation to raise serum vitamin D levels can help you lose weight. It does this by affecting several physiological functions, like boosting metabolism and reducing inflammation to help burn calories.
Interested in what can help you lose weight? Try vitamin D supplementation. Yes, you read that right.
While the main job of vitamin D is bone-building and strengthening, the sunshine vitamin has a range of other benefits. People commonly use Vitamin D to maintain stronger teeth and bones, support their immune system, ease depression, and reduce the odds of cardiovascular disease.
But in recent times, more people are talking about using vitamin D for weight loss. Interestingly, this is not just another fad. There’s scientific evidence that vitamin D helps with weight loss to reduce body fat.
What’s this evidence? This article will answer this question. At the end of this article, you’ll understand the link between vitamin D and weight loss.
How does vitamin D help with weight loss?
Vitamin D is not a direct weight-loss agent. It is neither a weight-loss pill nor a magical fat-burning substance. Rather, it has indirect effects that can cause you to lose weight. It contributes to weight loss indirectly by affecting various physiological functions within the body.
If you’re trying to lose weight, the word “calories” is not new to you. Some of the best weight loss advice you’ll get is to “eat fewer calories and burn more from your body.”
That said, your body burns calories in a process called metabolism—the process by which the body converts food into energy.
The interesting thing is that vitamin D boosts metabolism. A faster metabolism means your body burns calories at a quicker rate. This makes you lose weight because it reduces the excess calories that are stored in the body as fat.
Ever wondered why some people eat a lot but do not gain extra pounds? Fast metabolism. Vitamin D can give you that!
As anyone trying to lose weight must have heard, one of the best ways to burn calories from the body is exercising. When you exercise, your body uses more energy—burns more calories. And you lose body weight when you burn more calories than you take in.
Interestingly, there’s a link between vitamin D, muscle strength, and exercise performance.
Vitamin D is essential for maintaining muscle function. Specifically, vitamin D helps increase muscle strength. Strong muscles make you exercise better to burn those calories and lose weight.
Improving bone health
Let’s circle back to exercising for weight management. As you’ll know, staying active to lose weight requires having strong bones. People with brittle bones just cannot maintain an active lifestyle without risks of bone fractures.
The main function of vitamin D is strengthening bones. It does this by helping the body absorb calcium and phosphorous for the mineralization of bones.
That said, vitamin D improves your bone health, making it possible to maintain the active lifestyle needed to lose weight.
It should be evident that there is a link between depression and weight gain.
Depression causes a change in eating patterns, with sufferers often craving high-calorie comfort foods.
Also, depression comes with low energy levels and a lack of motivation. This almost always leads to decreased physical activity and exercise. So, someone with depression is more likely to consume calorie-dense food and burn fewer calories via physical activities. Gaining weight is inevitable.
Vitamin D helps with depression in several ways, including affecting the level of neurotransmitters in the body.
It boosts the level of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. And these are feel-good hormones that help lift the spirits to overcome depressive symptoms.
When your level of this feel-good hormone spikes, you feel energized, invigorated, and motivated. Then, you are better able to stick with healthy eating habits and weight-loss programs.
Chronic inflammation causes insulin resistance, which is a condition that can make you gain extra pounds (we’ll see how this happens soon).
Thankfully, vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties. The micronutrient regulates the production of inflammatory cytokines and immune cells.
So, taking vitamin D supplements helps reduce the inflammation that causes insulin resistance. And this prevents high blood sugar levels that can make you gain extra pounds.
Different medical studies have shown a correlation between high blood sugar levels and obesity. One popular study showed that vitamin D supplementation improved blood sugar levels to enhance the beneficial effect of weight loss.
What is the right dosage of vitamin D for weight loss?
The minimum amount of vitamin D recommended for adults is 600 IU (15 mcg) per day, while the maximum daily intake that is not likely to cause adverse health effects is 100 mcg (4,000 IU).
That said, between the 600 IU minimum and the 4,000 IU maximum limit, what should you take?
Some research has suggested dosing based on body weight and recommends 32-36 IU per pound. Depending on your body weight, this dosage formula can result in an amount higher than the 4,000 IU maximum intake amount.
The National Health Institute says toxicity is unlikely with daily intakes below 10,000 IU. However, the institute stresses that high doses might have adverse effects over time and encourages individuals to consult their doctors before getting close to or exceeding the 4,000 IU upper limit.
The next question is: how long should you take vitamin D for weight loss?
Different studies have shown that taking appropriate doses of vitamin D every day for several weeks can help you lose weight.
One 2018 study treated obese and overweight women with 5,000 IU of vitamin D per week. After just 6 weeks of supplementation, the women experienced a reduction in weight, body mass index, waist circumference, and hip circumference.
In another study, overweight and obese women were treated with 25 mcg (1,000 IU) per day for 12 weeks. The researchers reported that body weight and waist circumference did not change significantly but that body fat mass decreased significantly.
So, adequate vitamin D supplementation would start with fat loss in your weight loss journey.
Can a vitamin D deficiency lead to weight gain?
Many scientific studies show that Vitamin D efficiency leads to larger waistlines.
Vitamin D deficiency leads to weight gain via different mechanisms that either make your body store calories as fat or prevent you from burning excess calories.
Slows metabolism to make you store more calories
Since vitamin D boosts metabolism, vitamin D deficiency results in slowed metabolism.
A slowed metabolism means your body burns fewer calories. And if your body is burning only a small amount of the calories you eat, it means more calories get stored in your body as fat, making you gain weight.
Weakens your muscles to make you less active
Vitamin D strengthens muscles. Thus, its deficiency increases the risk of having weak muscles.
When you have weak muscles, you won’t be able to do much exercise. And since regular physical activity helps you burn calories to lose weight, being less active will make you gain extra pounds.
Causes brittle bones to make you less active
As mentioned earlier, Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium to build and strengthen bones. Vitamin D deficiency results in brittle bones and other bone disorders like osteoporosis.
Brittle bones limit your ability to walk, jog, jump, run, or perform other forms of exercise to burn calories and lose weight. As a result, you’ll be more sedentary, and the extra calories built up in your body will make you gain weight.
Can cause depression by increasing calorie intake while making you less active
Several studies have demonstrated the link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. As stated above, a popular link is that vitamin D deficiency causes low levels of serotonin. And low levels of this neurotransmitter cause low mood.
Low mood is characterized by a lack of motivation and low energy. Exercising is usually not on the agenda of people in that state. Given also that depression can make one crave calorie-dense comfort food, one would quickly add weight when depressed.
Causes chronic inflammation to make your body store more fat
As mentioned earlier, vitamin D deficiency causes chronic inflammation, which can make you gain weight via insulin resistance.
Now, let’s explain how it happens!
Insulin resistance is a condition in which your body cells become less responsive to insulin. Know that insulin regulates blood sugar levels. Thus, when your cells are resistant to insulin, they struggle to take up glucose from your blood, causing blood sugar levels to soar.
Sadly, when your cells cannot remove sugar from your blood effectively, the body stores the excess blood sugar in tissue as fat. So, as blood sugar rises, more fat is deposited in your body, making you gain extra pounds.
What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
The signs and symptoms to look out for to know if you have vitamin D deficiency include:
Vitamin D helps the body in the absorption of calcium, a mineral necessary for maintaining strong and healthy bones. Thus, with vitamin D deficiency, your body will not absorb adequate calcium for bone mineralization. Your bone mass will decrease, and your bones will become brittle.
Ever heard of osteoporosis? That’s the medical term for the condition. People with low bone mineral density have a higher risk of fractures.
Studies after studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency leads to bone loss. One large study of over 1,000 menopausal and postmenopausal women found that a strong association exists between vitamin D levels and bone density.
Studies show that vitamin D supplement usage can protect you from bone mineral loss and reduce the risk of bone fractures.
Bone and lower back pain
Because of the role of Vitamin D in bone health, insufficiency or deficiency can lead to weak bones and cause musculoskeletal pain. So, if your lower back hurts all the time, you may have low levels of vitamin D.
One meta-analysis shows that vitamin D deficiency causes chronic low back pain. Also, a comprehensive review found that people with arthritis and chronic widespread pain have lower levels of vitamin D than those without these medical conditions.
Bone deformation in children
Still on the role of vitamin D in bone health, severe vitamin D deficiency/insufficiency in children can lead to rickets. This condition is characterized by the softening of the bones. And it results in skeletal deformities such as bowed legs or knocked knees.
So, if you notice a child’s legs “bow-ing,” vitamin D may be the culprit.
Vitamin D is also as important to muscle function as it is to skeletal health. It does this in different ways.
One way is facilitating the synthesis of muscle proteins, which affects how the body builds and maintains muscle. That is, in the absence of vitamin D, muscle protein synthesis will be compromised, resulting in reduced muscle strength and performance.
Weak muscles can result in nonspecific musculoskeletal pain. Research shows that vitamin D deficiency causes muscle pain. Another study found that over 70% of people with chronic pain had vitamin D deficiency.
Therefore, if you constantly have nonspecific pain, you just may have vitamin D deficiency. Thankfully, vitamin D supplementation can help reduce various types of chronic pain.
One study found that treatment doses of vitamin D supplements help with chronic pain among seniors with vitamin D deficiency.
Another study found that a single dose of vitamin D supplement can reduce growing pain in children with vitamin D deficiency.
Frequent illness or infections
Do you fall sick all the time, especially with cold and flu? Vitamin D deficiency may be the culprit.
Know that one of the main roles of vitamin D is supporting the immune system. The micronutrient interacts with all the key players in the immune response, as its receptors are on almost all cells of the immune system.
To put it simply, vitamin D regulates the activities of immune cells to help your body fight off bacteria and viruses. Thus, vitamin D deficiency compromises the immune system, making you susceptible to infections and illnesses.
The effect of vitamin D deficiency on frequent illnesses has been widely studied. For example, one systematic review showed that children with lower respiratory tract infections (LRTI) had low levels of vitamin D.
Do you always feel tired? It just may be a symptom of vitamin D deficiency. Yes, persistent fatigue and a general lack of energy are signs of not having adequate levels of the sunshine vitamin.
Let’s circle back to muscle weakness to understand why vitamin D deficiency causes fatigue.
As stated earlier, vitamin D deficiency causes muscle weakness. Sadly, muscle weakness leads to fatigue via several mechanisms. For example, when your muscles are weak, your body will exert more effort to perform simple tasks.
This increased effort correlates to expending more energy, causing you to tire out quicker. Also, weak muscles.
Different studies have linked low levels of serum vitamin D with fatigue. One large study found that there is a direct link between vitamin D deficiency and fatigue in older adults.
Another study found that 89% of the female nurse population who complained of fatigue were deficient in vitamin D.
Thankfully, vitamin D supplementation can help with fatigue in people with low vitamin D levels.
A study investigating post-stroke fatigue found that vitamin D supplements significantly improved fatigue symptoms in 100% of people treated.
If you persistently have mood disorders like depression and anxiety, vitamin D deficiency may be the culprit.
The link between vitamin D deficiency/ insufficiency and depression is well established. Since vitamin D affects the production of feel-good hormones, a low vitamin D status causes low mood.
One critical appraisal found that serum vitamin D levels inversely correlate with clinical depression. That is, as vitamin D levels decrease, symptoms of clinical depression increase.
However, popping vitamin B supplements can help relieve symptoms of depression.
A systematic review of different studies reported that in some double-blind placebo-controlled trials, daily vitamin D supplementation helped with depression, with its effect being comparable to that of anti-depressant medication.
Impaired wound healing
Did you know that vitamin D is essential for wound healing? The sunshine vitamin facilitates wound healing by promoting the production of epidermal and platelet growth factors.
To put this in simpler words, vitamin D plays an important role in the production of compounds that facilitate the formation of new skin during the wound-healing process.
For this reason, vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency can impair wound healing. So, if your wounds take longer than normal to heal, low levels of vitamin D may be the reason.
Different studies confirm this. In one large study involving 221 people, the researchers found that vitamin D deficiency was associated with high levels of inflammatory cytokine that can jeopardize healing.
Vitamin D supplementation can help your wound heal faster if you are vitamin D deficient. One placebo-controlled trial found that, in people with diabetic foot ulcers, the wounds of those who take vitamin D supplements healed significantly faster compared with the placebo group.
One of the main causes of severe hair loss (alopecia) is nutrient deficiency, particularly vitamin D deficiency.
The relationship between low blood vitamin D levels and hair loss is not completely understood. However, research has suggested several mechanisms through which vitamin D deficiency may make you lose your hair.
One is immune system dysfunction, as seen in alopecia areata—an autoimmune disorder that may cause unpredictable hair loss. Since vitamin D modulates the immune system, low levels can cause immune system dysfunction, which may lead to alopecia areata.
Whatever the mechanism through which it happens, one thing is sure —vitamin D levels have an inverse relationship with non-scarring hair loss. The lower the vitamin D status, the more hair loss may be detected, and vice versa.
Thankfully, vitamin D supplementation can be used to aid hair regrowth in people with vitamin D deficiency. A of 48 people with alopecia areata found that vitamin D therapy significantly increased hair regrowth.
Who is most at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency is very prevalent, as nearly 50% of people worldwide are deficient in the vitamin.
According to the National Institute of Health, those who are most at risk of vitamin D deficiency are:
People with limited sun exposure
Ever wondered why Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin? It is because our bodies can produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.
When sunlight (specifically UVB rays) falls on your skin, a compound in the skin absorbs the UVB radiation and converts it to pre-vitamin D3.
Your body heat then converts it to vitamin D3. It is then transported to the liver, where it is converted to calcidiol—the active form of the vitamin that is measured in blood tests to assess vitamin D status.
Since exposure to sunlight is one way to improve vitamin D levels, groups that have limited sun exposure have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Examples of such groups are:
- Homebound individuals: People who are always indoors (for any reason) will have limited sun exposure and are not likely to obtain an adequate amount of vitamin D from sunlight.
- People who cover their bodies excessively: People who cover their skin excessively will not get good sun exposure for vitamin D synthesis, even if they are under the sun. Examples include Middle Eastern women who wear long robes or dresses for religious reasons.
- People who use sunscreen: Sunscreen repels UVB rays. So, using sunscreen will limit the amount of sunlight that hits your skin for vitamin D production.
People with darker skin
Darker skin has a greater amount of melanin in the epidermis. The pigment acts as a natural sunscreen by preventing the penetration of UVB rays into the skin. The darker the skin, the more melanin it has, and the more it’ll “repel” UVB radiation.
Less UVB radiation into the skin means less production of vitamin D from sunlight. So, while darker skin protects individuals from damage from the sun (such as sunburn or skin cancer), it also affects the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D.
Since dark skin repels UV radiation that the skin uses to produce vitamin D, darker skin people are at higher risk of having vitamin D deficiency.
Older adults/seniors have a higher risk of developing vitamin D deficiency. Two things explain this:
- The skin’s ability to produce vitamin D reduces with age: As people age, the skin produces less 7-DHC - the compound that absorbs UVB radiation from the sun to begin the process of vitamin D production. With a lower skin concentration of 7DHC, there is less substrate for vitamin D production.
- Reduced sunlight exposure with age: Older people generally spend less time outdoors compared to younger individuals. This limits the opportunities for the skin to receive sunlight for vitamin D synthesis.
Human milk provides less than 0.6-2.0 mcg (25 - 78 IU) of vitamin D. Whereas the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin D for infants (0-12 months) is 10 mcg (about 400 IU).
For this reason, consuming breast milk alone does not allow infants to meet vitamin D requirements.
Infants’ skin can produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not encourage exposing infants to direct sunlight.
The AAP’s recommendation to help breastfed infants meet their daily vitamin D requirements is supplementation. It recommends that infants that are partially or exclusively breastfed be given 10 mcg (400 IU) of vitamin D supplements per day, starting after birth and continuing until they are weaned.
People with conditions that limit fat absorption
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means it dissolves in dietary fat and is absorbed with the fat. Thus, absorbing vitamin D depends on the gut’s ability to absorb dietary fat.
For this reason, people with conditions that affect fat absorption may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
These conditions include:
- Some form of liver disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Crohn’s disease
- Celiac disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
Sadly, people with these conditions have more than fat malabsorption to contend with in their battle against vitamin D deficiency.
Many of them cannot eat certain foods, such as dairy products (and these are foods that are usually fortified with vitamin D). This further limits their opportunities to meet their daily vitamin D requirements.
People with obesity
Obese people with a higher body mass index (30 or more) have lower serum 25(OH)D levels (the major circulatory form of vitamin D) than people within the healthy weight range.
The link between vitamin D deficiency/ insufficiency and obesity is actually in both directions. We’ve seen that vitamin D deficiency can cause obesity. However, obesity can increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Obesity can lead to low levels of the vitamin due to the following:
- Accumulation in adipose tissue: Being a fat-loving vitamin, Vitamin D is sequestered in adipose (fat) tissue. Obese people have a large volume of adipose tissue. So, vitamin D is entrapped in these tissues in large amounts. This significantly reduces serum vitamin D levels (the vitamin D available for use by the body), causing vitamin D deficiency.
- Reduced sunlight exposure: Obese people generally engage in fewer outdoor activities compared with people within the healthy weight range. Thus, they get less vitamin D from sunlight.
People who have undergone gastric bypass surgery
Gastric bypass surgery is a procedure that changes the way the small intestine and stomach absorb food.
In the procedure, a pouch is created in the top part of the stomach and attached to the lower part of the small intestine. Food is rerouted through this pouch, bypassing most of the stomach and the top part of the small intestine.
Gastric bypass surgery is very effective for losing weight. This is because the bypassed part of the small intestine is where nutrient absorption takes place. Therefore, the surgery induces calorie malabsorption, making you lose weight.
However, that bypassed section of the small intestine is also where vitamin D is absorbed. Thus, people who have undergone gastric bypass surgery cannot absorb vitamin D effectively, leading to a deficiency.
How much vitamin D do I need?
According to the National Institute of Health, people need 15 mcg (600 IU) of vitamin D per day. But infants need a little less (10 mcg/ 400 IU), while seniors need more (20 mcg/ 800 IU).
- 0 to 6 months-10 mcg (400 IU)
- 1 to 70 years-15 mcg (600 IU)
- 70+ years-20 mcg (800 IU)
How can I improve my vitamin D levels?
There are three ways you can improve your vitamin D levels:
Hit the outdoors
Vitamin D “loves” the sun, as the body synthesizes it when the skin is exposed to sunshine. Thus, one of the easiest ways to improve your vitamin D levels is to hit the outdoors when the sun is up.
Let the sun caress your skin, and your body will do the rest. But how much sunshine is good for vitamin D production?
The World Health Organization recommends 5-15 minutes of casual sun exposure on the face, hands, and arms two to three days a week.
Consume vitamin D-rich foods
Certain foods have good amounts of vitamin D. Consuming these foods can help improve your vitamin D levels. Some great food sources of vitamin D are fish liver oil and fatty fish like trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel.
The National Health Institute provides the vitamin D levels per serving of some food sources rich in the vitamin as below:
- Cod liver oil - 34 mcg (1,360 IU)
- Trout - 16.2 mcg (645 IU)
- Salmon - 14.2 mcg (570 IU)
- Mushroom - 9.2 mcg (366 IU)
- Vitamin D fortified milk - 2.9 mcg (120 IU)
- Soy, almond, and oat milk - 2.5 - 3 mcg (100 - 144 IU)
- Fortified cereal - 2.0 mcg (80 IU)
- Sardines - 1.2 mcg (46 IU)
- Eggs - 1.1 mcg (44 IU)
- Beef liver - 1.0 mcg (42 IU)
- Tuna fish - 1.0 mcg (42 IU)
Take dietary supplements
Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays comes with negative effects, and not many foods contain good amounts of vitamin D. Thus, hitting the outdoors or using diets may not be efficient ways to get your daily vitamin D requirement.
One of the best ways to improve your vitamin D levels is by taking vitamin D supplements.
Dietary supplements trump the other methods for boosting vitamin D levels for many reasons, such as:
Being readily available
Know that it may not be possible to always include vitamin D foods in your diet. Also, sunshine is limited by season and even time of the day. But Vitamin D supplements are always available whenever you need to boost your vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D supplements are generally more potent than other vitamin D sources. For example, sun exposure for 10 -15 minutes (with 22% of uncovered skin) in the summer or spring can synthesize only about 1,000IU of vitamin D.
Also, the best food source (cod liver oil) offers 1,360 IU of vitamin D per serving.
However, the Why Not Natural vitamin D3 liquid drops offer 5,000 IU of vitamin D per serving. That said, the higher potency of vitamin D supplements means they offer you a better chance of meeting your daily vitamin D requirements.
Bioactive form of vitamin D
The best vitamin D supplements, like the Why Not Natural vitamin D+K2 liquid drops and the Why Not Natural Vitamin D3+K2 capsule, use the most bioactive form of vitamin D (vitamin D3). This ensures maximum absorption of the vitamin, making it available for use by the body.
That said, magnesium is one micronutrient that helps activate vitamin D. So, when taking vitamin D supplements to improve vitamin D levels you may want to take magnesium supplements.
The Why Not Natural Magnesium supplement is made with the best-absorbed form of magnesium glycinate, and it supports sleep and relaxation for better overall health.
Prevention of Vitamin D deficiency
You can prevent vitamin D deficiency by ensuring you meet your daily vitamin D requirement. You can get vitamin D by consuming vitamin D-rich foods and getting out more, especially when it’s sunny. But the best way to boost vitamin D levels and prevent deficiency is supplementation.
Understanding vitamin D risk groups will also help you when trying to prevent deficiency. For example:
Understand your skin type
If you have dark skin and you understand that people with darker skin do not produce vitamin D from sunlight as quickly as lighter-skinned individuals, you’ll not go with occasional exposure to sunlight.
Rather, you will go for extended exposure to the sun to maximize your skin’s production of vitamin D from sunlight. And you’ll support your skin’s effort with vitamin D supplements.
Understand how your age affects your vitamin D status
If you are 70+ years old and you understand that the ability of older adults’ skin to produce vitamin D is significantly reduced, you’ll spend more time outdoors to maximize your skin’s production of vitamin D from sunlight. And you’ll support the efforts with vitamin D supplements.
Understand conditions that may affect vitamin D status
Suppose you have celiac disease, and you understand that digestive and kidney diseases affect your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B. In that case, you may want to go with the tolerable upper intake level of vitamin D instead of the average daily level of intake.
This gives your body more opportunity to absorb more of the micronutrient.
Takeaway: Use Vitamin D supplementation to maintain a healthy weight
Before now, you may have wondered, “Can vitamin D really help me lose weight?” Now, you know the answer! Yes, it can.
Vitamin D deficiency can make you gain weight. So, vitamin D supplementation can boost your vitamin D levels to help you lose weight.
However, Vitamin D is not a fat-burning pill, so it does not directly melt your body fat away. Rather, it helps you lose weight indirectly by affecting several physiological functions within the body. For example, it boosts metabolism to burn calories faster, reducing the calories stored in the body as fat.
True, you can get vitamin D from sunlight and some foods. But the best source of vitamin D for raising low vitamin D levels and fighting off obesity is supplementation.
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