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Information on the latest vitamin D news and research.

Find out more information on deficiency, supplementation, sun exposure, and how vitamin D relates to your health.

Animal study: Potential mechanism discovered of how vitamin D may help in weight loss

In obesity, cells called adipocytes increase. Adipocytes are fat cells and are the main make-up of adipose, or fat, tissue. These cells, along with adipose tissue as a whole, help store energy from food as fat. An increase in food consumption leads to an increase in storage of energy and a subsequent increase in total adipocytes.

It has been hypothesized that a decrease in the number of adipocytes can help in weight loss and help with weight maintenance. This decrease in adipocytes would be achieved through inducing apoptosis, or cell death, of the adipocytes.

Researchers have been curious if vitamin D plays a role at all in adipocyte apoptosis (death of adipocyte cells). Vitamin D receptors are found on cells all over the body. With cancer cells in particular, vitamin D has been shown to help induce apoptosis.

If vitamin D did play a role in adipocyte apoptosis, then vitamin D may indeed have a minor role in weight management and loss.

In the present study, researchers set out to investigate this potential mechanism.

They fed mice a high fat diet to induce obesity. The researchers then randomly assigned the mice to either a treatment or control group. The treatment group consisted of three separate diets. One of the diets consisted of high calcium intake, one consisted of high vitamin D intake, and one consisted of high calcium and vitamin D intake. The mice receiving vitamin D received ten times the recommended amount usually given to mice. The control group, on the other hand, received a diet containing the recommended amount of calcium and vitamin D.

The mice were fed these diets for 10 weeks. After the 10 weeks, the researchers measured weight, vitamin D status and calcium metabolism. Here is what the researchers found:

  • The mice that received calcium, vitamin D or both had less body weight gain and total body weight compared to the control mice.
  • The mice fed calcium and/or vitamin D had lower fasting glucose concentrations compared to the control mice.
  • The mice on all three treatments showed induced apoptosis of adipocytes.
  • Overall, the mice on either calcium, vitamin D or both  showed more apoptosis of adipocytes compared to the control group.

The researchers concluded,

“The results obtained show that mice fed a [high fat] diet with an increased level of Ca (1.2%) and high oral intake of vitamin D3 (25 mcg/kg of body weight) demonstrate a decrease body and fat weight gain (epididymal and peritoneal [white adipose tissue] depots) and significant improved markers of adiposity and vitamin D status.”

The researchers suggest a possible detailed mechanism for this induced apoptosis. Previously, the researchers showed that the active form of vitamin D, 1,25(OH)2D3, induced apoptosis of adipocytes in mice and that the active form was mediated by Ca2+ signaling. Ca2+ is the ion form of calcium and is an important messenger for various processes in the cell, including inducing cell death.

Two enzymes signaled by Ca2+ are calpain and caspase-12. Calpain, in particular, has been suggested to play a direct role in inducing apoptosis. In this study, the researchers found that both calpain and caspase-12 were increased to normal levels by vitamin D but not by calcium. Thus, the researchers propose that the mechanism behind apoptosis of adipocytes is through vitamin D’s ability to increase levels of calpain and caspase-12.

We have covered vitamin D and obesity many times before on this blog. While research shows there is a link between vitamin D and obesity, research shows that obesity more so causes vitamin D deficiency than vitamin D deficiency causes obesity. However, mechanistic research continues to suggest that vitamin D plays a causal role in obesity, albeit it may be minor. Further research is needed to understand how vitamin D affects obesity.


Sergeev, I. & Song, Q. High vitamin D and calcium intakes reduce diet-induced obesity in mice by increasing adipose tissue apoptosis. Molecular nutrition & food research, 2014.

  About: Jeff Nicklas

Jeff Nicklas was a staff member for the Vitamin D Council from October 2013 to January 2015. He is now pursuing his passion for public health through graduate studies.

3 Responses to Animal study: Potential mechanism discovered of how vitamin D may help in weight loss

  1. JBG says:

    Maybe there is a cognitive typo here? Anyway, I can’t parse the sentence containing it.

    “research shows that obesity more so causes obesity”?

    • Brant Cebulla says:

      JBG, thanks for pointing that out. Now reads as intended: “research shows that obesity more so causes vitamin D deficiency than vitamin D deficiency causes obesity.”

  2. Michael says:

    How about the researcher who taped the rats’ mouths shut. One group of rats had natural organic bee’s wax put in their nostril holes and the other group had petroleum wax put in theirs. When equal numbers of both the bee’s wax and petroleum wax rats died in the same amount of time, it was concluded that petroleum wax is no more dangerous than natural organic bee’s wax.