Vitamin D Benefits may Depend on Body Weight

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient involved in many biological processes, most notably helping our body absorb minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. While some of the vitamin D we need is made in the body from sunlight, vitamin D deficiencies are often treated with supplementation. Evidence from laboratory studies, epidemiologic research and clinical research has also suggested that vitamin D may play a role in the incidence and progression of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and it was this evidence that prompted the original VITAL trial.

The VITAL trial was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 25,871 U.S. participants, which included men over the age of 50 and women over the age of 55. All participants were free of cancer and cardiovascular disease at the time of enrollment. While the trial found little benefit of vitamin D supplementation for preventing cancer, heart attack, or stroke in the overall cohort, there was a statistical correlation between BMI and cancer incidence, cancer mortality, and autoimmune disease incidence. Other studies suggest similar results for type 2 diabetes.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital have found new evidence that vitamin D may be metabolized differently in people with an elevated body mass index (BMI)

The new study aimed to investigate this correlation. The researchers analyzed data from 16,515 participants from the original trial who provided blood samples at baseline (before randomization to vitamin D), as well as 2,742 with a follow-up blood sample taken after two years. The researchers measured the levels of total and free vitamin D, as well as many other novel biomarkers for vitamin D, such as its metabolites, calcium, and parathyroid hormone, which helps the body utilize vitamin D.

The researchers found that vitamin D supplementation increased most of the biomarkers associated with vitamin D metabolism in people, regardless of their weight. However, these increases were significantly smaller in people with elevated BMIs.

The authors conclude that the VITAL findings are a call to action for the research community to continue exploring the potential benefits of vitamin D supplementation for preventing cancer and other diseases and to take BMI into account when evaluating the supplement’s health impacts.


Deirdre K. Tobias, Heike Luttmann-Gibson, Samia Mora, Jacqueline Danik, Vadim Bubes, Trisha Copeland, Meryl S. LeBoff, Nancy R. Cook, I-Min Lee, Julie E. Buring, JoAnn E. Manson. Association of Body Weight With Response to Vitamin D Supplementation and Metabolism. JAMA Network Open, January 17, 2023; 6 (1): e2250681 DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.50681