New research from Brazil has found that an insufficient level of vitamin D could be increasing the risk of metabolic syndrome in postmenopausal women.
Described as a collection of conditions that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, metabolic syndrome (MetS) is estimated to affect around 50% of the female population above the age of 50 in the United States. The risk of developing MetS increases with age, although making healthy lifestyle choices can help control it.
Now new research from São Paulo State University’s Botucatu Medical School (FMB-UNESP) has suggested that there is also a strong association between levels of vitamin D and MetS.
For the study the team of researchers looked at 463 women aged between 45 and 75 and followed them for two years.
The women’s last menstruation had occurred at least 12 months before the start of the study, and they had no existing or pre-existing heart problems.
To determine which of the women had MetS the researchers also looked at typical parameters for MetS diagnosis. These include a waist circumference of above 88 cm, high blood pressure (above 130/85 mmHg), high blood sugar (fasting glucose above 100 mg/dL), and abnormal levels of triglycerides (above 150 mg/dL) and cholesterol (HDL below 50 mg/dL).
MetS was diagnosed if three or more of these criteria were met.
After measuring participants’ blood vitamin D levels, the research found that 57.8% of the women analyzed with vitamin D insufficiency (20-29 nanograms per milliliter of blood) or deficiency (less than 20 ng/ml) also had MetS.
However, just 39.8% of participants with sufficient vitamin D (30 ng/ml or more) had the syndrome.
“We found that the lower the level of blood vitamin D, the greater the occurrence of MetS,” commented one of the study’s authors Eliana Aguiar Petri Nahas. “The results suggest that supplementing and maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D in postmenopausal women can reduce the risk of disease.”
The researchers suggested that vitamin D level may be associated with the risk of MetS as vitamin D influences insulin secretion and sensitivity, which play a major role in the syndrome.
Nahas also added that aging is a key factor in vitamin D deficiency.
“Exposure to the sun activates a sort of pre-vitamin D in the adipose tissue under the skin,” she explained. “Aging leads not just to loss of muscle mass but also to changes in body composition, and this pre-vitamin D is lost. That’s why older people produce less vitamin D even if they get plenty of sunlight.”
The team added that more studies are now needed to confirm the link, but Nahas advised postmenopausal women to seek medical advice to find out more about vitamin D supplementation.
The findings can be found published online in the journal Maturitas.