Researchers say there are indications it can, but scientists want more proof before recommending vitamin D supplements to kids,
As childhood obesity continues to rise in the United States and around the world, researchers are looking for solutions that might help stem that rise.
Healthier diets, more exercise, and less screen time can make a difference.
But one other thing that looks promising is adding a little extra vitamin D to kids’ diets.
The latest findings of this possible link between vitamin D supplementation and reducing obesity came from a conference in Europe last week.
At the 57th Annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology meeting in Greece, researchers presented data that showed extra vitamin D helped obese children lose weight as well as reduce other health risks.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium so bones and teeth stay healthy.
However, it’s not something your body produces on its own and it’s usually difficult to get enough from your diet.
Instead, most of what we get comes from sunlight as well as foods such as fish.
About 40 percent of adults in the United States weren’t getting enough vitamin D, according to 2011 research.
But in recent years, vitamin D has evolved from being known as just important for bone health to being important for a number of other functions, including, possibly, weight loss.
What the study revealed
This is not the first study to find that such a link could be possible, but Dr. Christos Giannios, who helped lead the new research at the University of Athens Medical School, said the current evidence on vitamin D’s effects on childhood obesity is “controversial.”
That’s why his team wanted to look into it further.
What Giannios and his colleagues found was that giving study participants more vitamin D reduced body mass index (BMI) and cholesterol compared to those who didn’t get additional vitamin D.
Whether the extra vitamin D caused that weight loss, though, is not 100 percent clear.
The findings do, however, “suggest that vitamin D plays a role in obesity,” Giannios told Healthline.
Proving that role conclusively is still a work in progress.
“There’s not great studies yet that conclusively say that’s the case and frankly this isn’t one either,” said Dr. Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness, a physician who’s also on the faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland.
But Kahan, who wasn’t involved in the new research, did call it an “interesting” study that adds to the hypothesis and “adds to the curiosity” about vitamin D and weight loss.
“We have to take this with a big grain of salt,” he told Healthline. “But at the same time we have to take vitamin D as one of the most reasonable things to consider supplementing.”
He said we tend not to get much vitamin D from food and that we’re not out in the sunlight as much as we need to be. So, it likely wouldn’t hurt to get more vitamin D.
Too much of a good thing
It is possible to get too much vitamin D.
Although rare, the excess can lead to hypercalcemia — a condition in which too much calcium in the bloodstream leads to fatigue, confusion, and weaker bones and muscles.
Kahan estimates that in the 10,000 to 15,000 patients he may have seen in the past decade, the vast majority have been taking a vitamin D supplement and only “maybe two” have had hypercalcemia.
“So it’s fairly difficult in most cases to take too much,” but he cautions that there’s no point in taking “megadoses.”
He says he hopes parents don’t see studies like this one and have an urgent reaction to give their kids lots of vitamin D.
“If they have an appointment coming up with a pediatrician, it’s reasonable to ask what his or her thoughts are on vitamin D and whether a vitamin D blood test would be warranted,” he said.
Kahan noted such a test is easy nowadays.
What parents should do
Kahan hopes further research continues to look into whether vitamin D really can help reduce fat and cut into a childhood obesity epidemic that’s affecting younger and younger children and often gets worse as kids get older.
Giannios also recommended regular vitamin D screenings, particularly for obese children, who are more likely to be vitamin D deficient.
But he cautions that vitamin D supplements aren’t necessarily recommended for children with normal vitamin D levels.
His team next plans to look into how vitamin D supplementation might affect obese children who already have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other risk factors for heart disease and other dangerous conditions.