Belly Fat Linked to Vitamin D Deficiency in New Study

A higher amount of belly fat has been linked to lower vitamin D levels in the body in a new study.

Researchers in the Netherlands found that people with higher levels of total body and abdominal fat had lower levels of vitamin D compared to those with less fat. This could mean that people who are overweight are prone to developing vitamin D deficiencies and related conditions, the scientists suggested. If proven, the link could have health implications for the more than one-third of U.S. adults who have obesity.

Vitamin D can be absorbed into the body from sunlight, and is also present in foods such as beef liver, oily fish like tuna, mackerel and salmon, as well as cheese, egg yolks, mushrooms and some fortified foods.

The body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium, and deficiency can lead to bone disorders. However, growing evidence suggests it could also play a role in the development of respiratory tract infections, autoimmune diseases and heart conditions.

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to belly fat in a new study. Growing evidence suggests it could also play a role in the development of respiratory tract infections, autoimmune diseases and heart conditions.  Getty Images

The team from the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam and Leiden University Medical Center noted the levels of total body fat and abdominal fat in participants of the Netherlands Epidemiology of Obesity study. The overall cohort included more than 6,600 individuals between 46 to 65 years of age, many of whom were obese. 2,580 of those were involved in the study.

They found that lower levels of vitamin D were associated with higher total body and abdominal fat in women, and more abdominal and liver fat in men.

Rachida Rafiq, the lead author of the study, presented the findings at the European Society of Endocrinology annual meeting in Barcelona.

"Although we did not measure vitamin D deficiency in our study, the strong relationship between increasing amounts of abdominal fat and lower levels of vitamin D suggests that individuals with larger waistlines are at a greater risk of developing deficiency, and should consider having their vitamin D levels checked," she said in a statement.

She highlighted that as the study was observational, her team was unable to say for certain that obesity causes vitamin D deficiency, or that a lack of the substance makes the body store belly fat. "However, this strong association may point to a possible role for vitamin D in abdominal fat storage and function," she said.

"Our results are significant as vitamin D deficiency and obesity are very common problems in our society nowadays," she told Newsweek, and argued that it is an important potential relationship to explore. "Future studies should explore what the underlying mechanisms are that explain this specific relationship between vitamin D and visceral adipose tissue."

Updated | This piece has been updated to include comment from Dr. Rachida Rafiq and background information.