COLUMBIA, Mo.—Consuming a diet rich in vitamin D fortified food and beverages may help obese children and teens control their blood-sugar levels and reduce their risk of diabetes, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Vitamin D helps maintain healthy bones, muscles and nerves and enters bodies through sunlight exposure, diet or supplements. Vitamin D insufficiency is common; however, it can be more detrimental to those who are obese.
“What makes vitamin D insufficiency different in obese individuals is that they process vitamin D about half as efficiently as normal-weight people," said lead author Catherine Peterson of the University of Missouri. “The vitamin gets stored in their fat tissues, which keeps it from being processed. This means obese individuals need to take in about twice as much vitamin D as their lean peers to maintain sufficient levels of vitamin D."
Researchers at the University of Missouri studied 35 pre-diabetic obese children and adolescents who were undergoing treatment in the university's Adolescent Diabetic Obesity Program. All had insufficient or deficient vitamin D levels and had similar diets and activity levels.
For the study, half of the participants were randomly assigned either a high-dose vitamin D supplement or a placebo daily for six months. They found participants who took the supplement developed sufficient vitamin D levels and lowered the amount of insulin in their blood.
"By increasing vitamin D intake alone, we got a response that was nearly as powerful as what we have seen using a prescription drug," Peterson said. "We saw a decrease in insulin levels, which means better glucose control, despite no changes in body weight, dietary intake or physical activity."
She said clinicians should check the vitamin D status of their obese patients, because they're likely to have insufficient amounts. “Adding vitamin D supplements to their diets may be an effective addition to treating obesity and its associated insulin resistance," she said.
A study published in February journal PLoS Medicine found obesity can lead to a lack of vitamin D circulating in the body. The findings suggest efforts to tackle obesity also may help reduce levels of vitamin D deficiency among the population.
For more information about vitamin D and its crucial role in nutrition, check out the Slide Show: Vitamin D—Illuminating the Sunshine Vitamin on Food Product Design.