Vitamin D deficiency may cause weight gain
June 25th, 2012
10:00 AM ET

Vitamin D deficiency may cause weight gain

Older women who don't get enough vitamin D may be slightly heavier than those who do.

A Kaiser Permanente study, published online in the recent issue of the Journal of Women's Health, looked at more than 4,600 women aged 65 and older for a four and one-half year period. Researchers found women with low levels of vitamin D in their blood gained about two pounds more than those with adequate levels of the vitamin.

So what’s the big deal, you ask?

"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," said study author Dr. Erin LeBlanc, an endocrinologist and researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon.

Called the "sunshine vitamin" because most of us get it from the sun, vitamin D helps maintain our bones and muscles, and keeps our central nervous system in check.  But if you take too much it could be toxic, causing nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.

Although the sun’s rays are the primary source, vitamin D can also be found in milk products, fatty fish and fortified items such as cereals and juices. But even with all these sources, prior research has found that women, especially older women, aren't getting enough.

In the Kaiser study, researchers found almost 80% of participants had insufficient levels of vitamin D. Because the vitamin's main source is sunlight, the investigators say those women lacking vitamin D may not spend enough time outdoors. They may also have a poor diet.

LeBlanc points out that this study was conducted among older women who, for the most part, were not trying to lose weight - though some of them did so as a natural result of aging. About 60% of the women in the study remained at a stable weight during the study period, 27% lost more than 5% of their body weight, and 12% gained more than 5% of their 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," LeBlanc 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."

soundoff (710 Responses)
  1. rgreeniwa

    This article is an example of how snake-oil medicine originates. The popular press takes correlational studies, which only show an association between two observations, and creates a cause & effect relationship between them. Suddenly, even the medical community starts believing the cause/effect relationship, when there is no evidence that there is any.

    In this study, by the researcher's own admission, there is only an association between vitamin D & weight, but the gist of the article as well as the headline is "Vitamin D Insufficiency May Cause Weight Gain". This is clearly not supported by the study. But the takeaway for readers, including no doubt, the medical community, will be that one should get more vitamin D or you'll get fatter.

    In fact, an obvious conclusion would be that people who don't have an active outdoor lifestyle tend to gain weight. Because they aren't outdoors much, they have lower vitamin D levels – but vitamin D may have nothing at all to do with weight loss or gain.

    The only way to know for sure if there is a cause/effect relationship is to do a controlled double-blind study. but most of these studies reported in the media are only correlational studies, but are reported as if they are established fact.

    No wonder so many have a jaded opinion of the hundreds of "shoulds/should nots" that comprise healthcare today.

    June 25, 2012 at 10:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paul

      Well said.

      June 26, 2012 at 23:47 | Report abuse |
    • Melissa

      I had the exact same thought while reading the article. It's more likely that physically active individuals spend more time outdoors; hence, higher levels of vitamin D and no weight gain.

      June 28, 2012 at 13:05 | Report abuse |
  2. VitD

    Agreed RG..Also poor diet results in weight gain and as stated in article low level vit D.

    June 25, 2012 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. M

    Hey, let's look at another possible cause-and-effect relationship here.

    People with higher levels of vitamin D have usually had more sun exposure. Sun exposure happens when people GO OUTSIDE. And typically, people who go outside more often are MORE ACTIVE. And people who are more active... don't gain as much weight!

    I'm a genius. Now where's my NIH grant money? 😛

    June 25, 2012 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pam

      Wrong! When I turned 40 I hired a personal trainer and purchased a treadmill, spin bike and various weights for an at home gym yet still gained 7 lbs! Went to the doctors and my Vitamin D level was at rock bottom. Lack of exercise was NOT the problem.

      September 19, 2012 at 21:09 | Report abuse |
  4. BA

    Vitamin D deficiency is associated with many diseases, such as bone loss, osteoarthritis, cognitive issues, kidney disease, respiratory concerns, diabetes, gastrointestinal issues, cardiovascular disease, that doesn't mean it is the cause either. However, according to Natural Standard (the authority on integrative medicine) taking vitamin D supplements have beneficial effects such as prevention of falls in the elderly. To read more visit http://www.naturalstandard.com

    June 25, 2012 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Boo

    Anytime a study has the words "may cause" in it, I blow it off.

    June 25, 2012 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark

      Your comment doesn't make any sense. Most research will say might cause since 100% cause and effect rarely exists in research. Genetic and social factors make it near impossible to get to 100%. So you are looking for something that doesn't exist and you will forever be frustrated reading research.

      June 27, 2012 at 15:39 | Report abuse |
    • Neymar

      Well for Vitamin A I suggest just etnaig lots of organic fruits and vegetables. David has a good video on foods that are high in Vitamin A. It is always best to get your vitamins and minerals from food instead of supplements. A good vitamin B complex is Garden of LifeVitamin Code Raw B-Complex. It is the best Vitamin B complex I have found. The best thing for Vitamin C is etnaig camu camu powder from the amazon rainforest. Amazon Herb Co sells some and Navitas Naturals.

      September 14, 2012 at 00:42 | Report abuse |
  6. David T

    I have read the best way to manage one's weight is to exercise outdoors. When you are outdoors, there are positive affects in brain chemistry from being exposed to this natural (sun) light; sort of like the opposite of the S.A.D syndrome. This positive affects allows one to exercise more than compared to an indoor gym without becoming bored. You are more likely to keep up your exercise regiment. After you exercise, you burn off those stress hormones. Thus you are less likely to over eat unhealthy foods for comfort. I believe we need to get creative in our rezoning and rebuilding old neighborhoods into walkable towns. One example may be to create one way, one lane roads to make room for a separate walking/biking lane on less traveled streets. The one way to return may be a street one block away. The more people get outside, the better they can manage their weight. They exercise more from the positive affects on the brain chemistry from the natural (sun) light. Somewhere as part of this causal and affect may include when someone exercise outdoors, they are more likely to keep it up. Thus they get more vitamin D and they weigh less.

    June 25, 2012 at 14:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • FiveLIters

      I have a treadmill and I live near a park. I much prefer to run in the park over the treadmill,but I like having the option to still run if it is a rainy/snowy day. (I also just like the change in scenery). That's just me,but I think some people like the idea of not being out in the world 'on display',so to speak,while exercising,or doing it in the privacy of their own homes. To each his own,I guess!

      June 26, 2012 at 11:51 | Report abuse |
  7. James


    Here's another study which did NOT find a correlation between vitamin D status and obesity (sorry for those without access to the full article).

    So what conclusions can we draw? there are inconclusive CORRELATIONAL results, and no definitive cause/effect relationship yet defined (that I know of).

    June 25, 2012 at 17:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jane

      Here is a more up-to-date article that suggests otherwise:


      March 19, 2014 at 18:57 | Report abuse |
    • Jane

      Of course, the weight loss is only notable for the people who needed to be replenished in Vitamin D. So if you are Vitamin D deficient there is a weight loss effect. Otherwise, you do not see weight loss if you already have normal levels.

      March 19, 2014 at 18:59 | Report abuse |
  8. larry5

    Someone got paid to write this? I'm tired of working for a living. I want a job like this.

    June 25, 2012 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Richard

      Also another good whole food soucre supplement of Vitamin C that I like is called Truly Natural Vitamin C by Health Force Nutritionals. It is really good. Some other good ones are Madre-Labs Vitamin C. Madre-Labs makes a lot of good wild crafted superfood whole food products. I personally like there Eureka Berries and Coco Ceps products. Very good stuff! For Vitamin D I recommend getting out in the sunlight for at least 25 minutes during the summer and take Cod Liver Oil in winter

      September 11, 2012 at 22:23 | Report abuse |

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    June 25, 2012 at 21:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. P

    Gaining two pounds of weight due to lack of vitamin D is an interesting study done by Kaiser Permanente. I believe it is important to keep a balance of all vitamins to maintain a healthy living. Natural Standard is a valuable database that was founded by healthcare providers and researchers to provide high-quality, evidence-based information about complementary and alternative medicine including dietary supplements and integrative therapies. Grades reflect the level of available scientific data for or against the use of each therapy for a specific medical condition.

    June 26, 2012 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • L

      They only gained 2 lbs in 4.5 years @ 65 years or older. The article says over time, this could be significant. Really, who cares at 65. You are almost 70 when you gain 2 pounds! This is over kill and hype just to us to read this article.

      June 26, 2012 at 10:45 | Report abuse |
  11. Bob

    Yet another example of CNN not understanding correlation vs causation, statistics, and science in general. You've really gotten that sensationalism thing down.

    June 26, 2012 at 16:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Grady

      I think those times should be EDT not EST. Also Dancefloor Fillers sattrs at 9pm BST not 8pm BST.*sigh* A Time Lord's work is never done.

      August 2, 2012 at 00:16 | Report abuse |
  12. Jon

    Glad to see people actively blowing up these cheap correlation studies for what they are, at best suggestive, at worst the sloppiest kind "science" you can do. We can also entertain ourselves with the equally ridiculous "conclusion" that adding a couple of extra pounds of fat somehow suppresses your vitamin D levels. blah de blah de blah blah blah... How about doing a real experiment before reporting a result.

    June 29, 2012 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rgreeniwa

      Thats a great point Jon! Gain weight and vitamin D levels drop! Think there's a cause & effect? Sanjay, are you listening? It's the scoop of the month!

      June 30, 2012 at 21:34 | Report abuse |
  13. Health4Living

    ive never heard that before but makes alot of sense. I do take some supplements but maybe a good ole glass of milk would do the trick


    July 11, 2012 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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  16. difficultlifepaths

    Although I'm not totally sure of this research, I live in a northern state and I am African-American. I'm outside quite a bit and I still have a vitamin D deficiency. A lot of people with darker skin do have a deficiency because our skin does not absorb vitamin d from the sun in the same way. I think to suggest that because people have a vitamin d deficiency it automatically means they are staying indoors is not the right conclusion.

    August 26, 2012 at 22:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Jane

    We live in the northeast, my husband has been outside all summer golfing and when we got our levels checked he was only 25. I have fair skin and I was at 45, still lower than it should be.

    September 18, 2012 at 18:06 | Report abuse | Reply
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  19. lucinda

    Im trying to gain weight..Im 22 and only weight 88..I know eww..So not taking Vitamin D good for me or what can i do to gain weight..I try eating alot but nothing..email me with ideas please..lucindbillie@gmail.com

    February 1, 2013 at 13:11 | Report abuse | Reply
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    June 21, 2013 at 06:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Jane

    I already posted this in a reply, but in case people didn't catch it:


    This study published in 2014 found results that suggest that Vitamin D does have a weight loss effect, but only in people who are deficient and in need of replenishment. If people who have normal level take Vitamin D and do exercise and eat a healthy diet they will see no greater weight loss than if they weren't taking the Vitamin D supplements. This was a double-blind randomized controlled study. They used controlled exercise, diet, BMI, Vitamin D blood serum levels, placebos/vitamin D supplements, etc.. This was a very thorough study.

    March 19, 2014 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
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