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Vitamin D reduces risk of fat gain in old age

With advanced age comes the potential for a loss in strength — dynapenia — and muscle mass — sarcopenia — with extreme cases yielding a significant increase in fat mass — known as sarcopenic obesity — the result of insulin resistance. All of these age-associated potential factors add to decreasing a person’s mobility, while increasing disability and frailty.

Research — “Association Between 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Status and Components of Body Composition and Glucose Metabolism in Older Men and Women”, which appears in the December 2018 issue of the online journal Nutrients, states that “supplementation of vitamin D may be a simple, safe and cost-effective strategy to support a healthier body composition at an older age.”

Vitamin D deficiency, noted the researchers from Switzerland and Tufts University in Boston, “is very common among seniors and has been linked to both low muscle mass and high fat mass, as well as, metabolic disturbances such as insulin resistance.”

Research has demonstrated that vitamin D receptors (VDR) act to increase muscle protein synthesis (creation) in postmenopausal women. In addition, it’s also known that vitamin D increases intracellular calcium in fat cells, which shifts the metabolism from making fat (lipogenesis) to breaking down fat (lipolysis).

A vitamin D deficiency — measured in the blood from 25(OH) vitamin D status — has been associated with a loss of muscle mass, muscle weakness, impaired lower extremity function (why the elderly may be at risk for falls and the ensuing fractures), impaired glucose and insulin metabolism.

As a result, researchers chose to “to investigate the association between serum 25(OH)D concentration and fat mass, muscle mass, as well as, insulin resistance in 271 seniors age 60 and over, relatively healthy, community-dwelling men and women undergoing elective surgery for severe unilateral knee osteoarthritis.”

This two-year, double-blind, randomized, controlled trial utilized two vitamin D intakes — 2,000 versus 800 international units (IU) per day — with baseline measurements — DXA scan for body composition, vitamin D concentrations, participant physical characteristics, and insulin resistance status — taken six to 10 weeks after total knee replacement surgery.

Here’s what was found: “A higher 25(OH)D status may be associated with lower body fat mass, higher insulin sensitivity, and better beta cell function, independent of BMI (body mass index) and other risk factors of diabetes including age, sex, smoking status and an objective measure of physical activity.”

Defective beta cell function of the pancreas is a hallmark of type 1 and 2 diabetes.

The investigators further documented that “fat mass, was highest in the lowest 25(OH)D quartile (?17.5 ng/mL) and lowest in the highest 25(OH)D quartile (?34.9 ng/mL). Similarly, better insulin sensitivity and beta cell function were associated with the highest serum 25(OH)D quartile (?34.9 ng/mL). A vitamin D status in the lowest or second quartile for 25(OH)D status (?17.6-26.0 ng/mL) was associated with a least desirable glucose metabolism.” says that vitamin D deficiency is defined as a serum 25(OH)D level less than 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), while vitamin D insufficiency can be defined as a 25(OH) level between 21to 29 ng/ml.

Vitamin D is found in food sources such as fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon), vitamin D fortified foods like dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals, beef liver, cheese, egg yokes and dietary supplements.

You also pick up vitamin D from skin exposure to the sun — typically 20 to 30 minutes — which is why, at certain latitudes during the winter months, vitamin D deficiencies can be elevated in those individuals — such as the elderly — who not only don’t go outside, but also have nutrient deficient diets.

The solution is to work with your physician to assess your vitamin D status, especially with age, in order to make effective decisions on your appropriate vitamin D intake, (from all sources) which, in some cases, may require a prescription.

Another step toward taking back ownership of your health.

Article and photo originally appeared on

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