Micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, don’t supply your body with energy like macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) do, but you must have them in sufficient quantities for heath and survival. Vitamins and minerals are vital for many chemical reactions in the body and deficiencies can be harmful. If a deficiency of a vitamin or mineral is extreme enough, it can even lead to death. However, some research also suggests that low levels of some vitamins and minerals may contribute to weight gain by altering appetite hormones, such as leptin and insulin.
How much of a role does micronutrient deficiency play in weight gain and obesity? A study found that people who supplement with a multivitamin that contains minerals are leaner than those who don’t take supplemental vitamins. However, it doesn’t establish cause and effect. Perhaps people who take a multivitamin are more health-conscious and have other healthy habits that make it easier to lose and control weight. Another study found that taking a vitamin and mineral supplement helps with appetite control too.
In another compelling study, researchers in China divided subjects into two groups. One group took a multivitamin and mineral supplement for 26 weeks while the other group took a placebo. At the end of the 26 weeks, those who supplemented with vitamins and minerals lost weight and body fat, and their waist size dropped more than those who didn’t supplement. When they looked at calcium supplementation alone, the subjects didn’t lose weight but experienced an improvement in their blood lipids.
Certain vitamins and minerals are more likely candidates for regulating weight loss than others. Two of interest are vitamin D and calcium. These are two micronutrients that people rarely get enough of, but is there robust evidence of a benefit for weight loss?
The Role of Vitamin D in Weight Control
The sunshine vitamin, a vitamin that behaves more like a hormone, describes vitamin D, a hormone-like vitamin that plays a key role in skeletal and immune health. The most reliable source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight rather than food, since most unfortified foods are not a good source of vitamin D. Beyond its job of regulating skeletal and immune health, vitamin D may also play a role in weight control. For example, vitamin D deficiency is more common in men and women who are overweight or obese. However, this doesn’t prove that vitamin D causes weight gain or obesity. People with more body fat don’t absorb vitamin D precursors as efficiently when they expose their skin to sunlight. So, they have fewer building blocks that the body needs to make active vitamin D.
Beyond weight loss, there is some evidence that supplementing with vitamin D may reduce weight gain over time. In one large study, women who took 400 I.U. of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day for 3 years gained less weight as time went on. Scientists believe they understand the mechanism by which vitamin D may help with weight control. If your vitamin D level falls too low, parathyroid hormone, a hormone produce by the parathyroid gland, rises. That matters because higher parathyroid hormone makes it harder to break down fat. If you have a low calcium level too, the parathyroid hormone rises. So, combining vitamin D and calcium deficiency could make it even harder to prevent a rise in body fat.
Calcium and Fat Loss
We already pointed out that low calcium increases parathyroid hormone, and that makes it harder to burn fat. Researchers at Creighton University in Nebraska found that women who consumed the most calcium-rich dairy gained no weight over time, while those who avoided dairy put on around a pound per year. Over time, slight weight increases add up to larger ones, so anything we can do to prevent “weight creep” is positive for health and wellbeing. Studies in mice also show that adding calcium to a low-calorie diet leads to greater weight loss than a diet that doesn’t contain added calcium.
Other research shows that calcium-rich foods, particularly yogurt, may offer an edge in controlling visceral fat, the unhealthy fat that accumulates around the waist and deep inside the pelvic cavity. This is the type of fat most likely to cause metabolic issues and type 2 diabetes. However, yogurt also contains live cultures of probiotic bacteria that may help with fat loss, based on some studies. So, the benefit may not come just from the calcium. Some research even shows that yogurt helps preserve lean body mass when dieting.
Also, know that the most benefits will come from increasing calcium and vitamin D if you’re deficient in one or both. Getting more, especially through supplements, may not lead to greater weight loss if you already have sufficient calcium and vitamin D stores.
The Bottom Line
Make sure you’re getting enough of all the micronutrients your body needs. Be mindful of how much calcium you’re consuming each day and know what your vitamin D level is. You can check your D level via a blood test your health care provider orders. However, correcting micronutrient deficiencies is unlikely to lead to dramatic weight loss. Weight control is more complex than that. However, eating a nutrient-dense diet and getting outdoors to encourage your body to produce more vitamin D could make it easier to control your weight and keep your waistline trim, but it’s no panacea. Make sure you’re doing other things right like getting enough exercise, managing stress, and getting enough sleep. You’ll be most successful in losing weight and maintaining if you subscribe to a variety of healthy lifestyle habits. There’s no one food or supplement alone that will help you get to your ideal body weight.
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