The human gut is home to roughly 100 trillion bacteria, many of which work to keep us healthy every day. Now, a collaborative study between scientists in the United States and China has uncovered an important link between gut health and vitamin D.
Based on previous data, we know that too many unhealthy fats in the diet increases the risk of metabolic syndrome—the name for a group of conditions (including obesity) associated with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes—but this new study found that vitamin D deficiency may also be a factor.
Using mice, researchers found that a high-fat diet alone was not enough to trigger metabolic syndrome—but a combination of poor diet and low vitamin D levels was. Why? Because while an unhealthy diet may upset a balanced gut, too little vitamin D contributes to that imbalance, preventing the production of important molecules called defensins that help maintain gut bacteria balance. This can lead to metabolic syndrome as well as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
But, when mice with metabolic syndrome were given supplemental vitamin D, researchers saw a significant improvement in their symptoms. “Based on this study, we believe that keeping vitamin D levels high, either through sun exposure, diet or supplementation, is beneficial for prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome,” said study co-author Professor Stephen Pandol in a recent news release. He and his colleagues hope to reproduce the same beneficial outcomes in human studies.