Researchers at North Carolina State University recently released new research finding that vitamin D plays a huge part in growth and development — and for those lacking vitamin D, it could harm growth and even increase the risk of obesity.
The study, which appears in Scientific Reports, was conducted by North Carolina State University’s Megan M. Knuth, Debabrata Mahapatra, Dereje Jima, Mac Law, and Seth W. Kullman, with University of California Davis’ Debin Wan and Bruce Hammock.
In the research, tests were conducted on zebrafish where the post-juvenile fish were put on one of three diets: no vitamin D, vitamin D enriched, and a control diet.
The zebrafish were part of a study that spanned four months where they were fed based on their diet, while researchers observed growth in addition to bone density, triglyceride, lipid, cholesterol, and vitamin D levels. To calculate their findings on obesity, researchers looked at fat production, storage, and growth in the zebrafish.
NC State biology professor Seth Kullman, who led the research, said that based on the study’s findings, vitamin D plays an “important role” in growth and fat storage.
“The vitamin D deficient zebrafish exhibited both hypertrophy and hyperplasia – an increase in both the size and number of fat cells,” Kullman said in a press release. “They also had higher triglycerides and cholesterol, which are hallmarks of metabolic imbalance that can lead to cardio-metabolic disease. This, combined with the stunted growth, indicates that vitamin D plays an important role in the ability to channel energy into growth versus into fat storage.”
So how important is vitamin D? Take it from the fish: The zebrafish that were in the vitamin D deficient group was about 50% smaller than fishes in other groups, according to researchers. In addition, they were found to have more fat reserves.
If you think there’s time to make up for a vitamin D deficiency, researchers put the vitamin D deficient group on an enriched diet for another six months and found that while the fish did grow and started to utilize fat reserves, they were still behind the other groups in terms of size. The vitamin D deficient group also retained fat deposits.
“This work shows that vitamin D deficiency can influence metabolic health by disrupting the normal balance between growth and fat accumulation,” Kullman said. “Somehow the energy that should be going toward growth is getting shunted into creating fat and lipids, and this occurrence cannot be easily reversed. While we don’t yet understand the mechanism, we are beginning to tease that out.”
Vitamin D can be found in such foods as fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, and salmon), some dairy, orange juice, beef liver, and egg yolks, according to WebMD. For a healthy adult, the Institute of Medicine recommends 1,000 mg daily.