Vitamin paradox in obesity: Deficiency or excess?

World J Diabetes. 2015 Aug 25;6(10):1158-67. doi: 10.4239/wjd.v6.i10.1158.


Since synthetic vitamins were used to fortify food and as supplements in the late 1930s, vitamin intake has significantly increased. This has been accompanied by an increased prevalence of obesity, a condition associated with diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, asthma and cancer. Paradoxically, obesity is often associated with low levels of fasting serum vitamins, such as folate and vitamin D. Recent studies on folic acid fortification have revealed another paradoxical phenomenon: obesity exhibits low fasting serum but high erythrocyte folate concentrations, with high levels of serum folate oxidation products. High erythrocyte folate status is known to reflect long-term excess folic acid intake, while increased folate oxidation products suggest an increased folate degradation because obesity shows an increased activity of cytochrome P450 2E1, a monooxygenase enzyme that can use folic acid as a substrate. There is also evidence that obesity increases niacin degradation, manifested by increased activity/expression of niacin-degrading enzymes and high levels of niacin metabolites. Moreover, obesity most commonly occurs in those with a low excretory reserve capacity (e.g., due to low birth weight/preterm birth) and/or a low sweat gland activity (black race and physical inactivity). These lines of evidence raise the possibility that low fasting serum vitamin status in obesity may be a compensatory response to chronic excess vitamin intake, rather than vitamin deficiency, and that obesity could be one of the manifestations of chronic vitamin poisoning. In this article, we discuss vitamin paradox in obesity from the perspective of vitamin homeostasis.

Keywords: Developmental origin of disease; Folic acid; Insulin resistance; Niacin; Obesity; Oxidative stress; Type 2 diabetes; Vitamin D; Vitamin fortification.

Publication types

  • Review