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Wednesday
Nov112009

Vitamins, Minerals and Weight Management

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

Is it possible that part of the reason for increased rates of overweight and obesity are a result of vitamin and mineral deficiencies in our diets? Do we tend to eat more food because the food we eat isn't really giving us what we need? The October issue of Nutrition Reviews contains an article titled Impact of Micronutrient Deficiencies on Obesity, which explores some of these questions.

Some nutrition experts believe our cravings are a result of nutrients our body is not getting through diet, which tend to cause us to eat more food than we otherwise would. The thought is, our cravings for calories, are the result of a lack of vitamins and/or minerals in our diet. Could part of the obesity issue be as simple as consuming additional vitamins and minerals, such as the use of a high-quality multivitamin? According to the report, some countries, where micronutrient (vitamin/mineral) deficiencies are more common, obesity is increasing at faster rates than other areas. Some studies have shown, antioxidant, vitamin and mineral levels impact the levels of leptin in the body, an important hormone that regulates calorie intake, calorie expenditure and inflammation - all important components of weight management.

Antioxidants

Many studies have shown a correlation between deficiencies of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and obesity. The studies, for the most part, have looked at obese populations and compared their levels of these antioxidants with those of normal-weight individuals. At this point, the results show there is an association, not that one causes the other. There is not enough data to show whether the issue is that deficient individuals can become obese, or if individuals who are obese tend to eat a diet that causes deficiencies. There is an association between deficiency in vitamin E and C, and abdominal fat, which is the unhealthiest place to store body fat. Associations between carotene levels and insulin resistance have also been seen in obese adults. Does that mean a lack of carotene can help cause insulin resistance? Not necessarily, but the association between the two does raise some red flags.

Vitamin D

It's almost impossible to read the health section of any news publication today without seeing an article on vitamin D. There are many issues that have been found with low levels of vitamin D, including issues with obesity. Low vitamin D levels are very common among obese adults. Since many of us live in areas of the country with seasonal changes in temperature and sun exposure, vitamin D deficiency is a very real and common concern. Maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels is important at all age levels, as obese children are often deficient in vitamin D like adults are. Testing for vitamin D deficiency is becoming more common, and is often recommended to ensure adequate levels are maintained year-round. If you are concerned about your level of vitamin D, talk to your doctor about testing your 25-hydroxyvitamin D.

Other Vitamins and Minerals

There is a significant amount of evidence showing the associations between obesity and other vitamins and minerals. Obese individuals are often low in B-vitamins, which include thiamin, B6, B12 and folic acid. Zinc deficiency is associated with obesity, visceral fat and inflammation. A lack of iron or calcium is also common in obese individuals.

Summary

There is much more work to be done to determine the significance of vitamin and mineral deficiencies in their relation to weight management. Overweight individuals often eat a calorie-dense, nutrient-poor diet, which could lead to excess weight gain. It is also possible that the lack of nutrients in individuals' diets could lead to increased hunger and cravings for poor food choices. It's quite possible that both scenarios take place. The best thing to do is to:

  • Avoid highly-processed, nutrient-poor foods which may further increase vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Use a high-quality multivitamin every day to ensure there are no gaps in your vitamin and mineral needs
  • Eat a variety of vegetables and fruit, ideally from organic sources.
  • Don't rely on food to give you everything you need, and don't depend on your multivitamin to take the place of whole-food. Use them both.

Reference:

Garcia O, Long K, Rosado J. Impact of micronutrient deficiencies on obesity. Nutrition Reviews. Vol. 67(10):559-572

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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