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Poor strength and muscle mass are linked with many disease states, including obesity, diabetes, and chronic inflammation. A new study in mice shows that vitamin D is critical in building and maintaining muscle. Mice with higher vitamin D levels had greater strength and muscle mass and less fat mass than those with lower levels.

Researchers fed mice three different diets over a period of 12 weeks to induce deficient, normal, and high blood concentrations of vitamin D. They measured the animals' strength and body composition before and after each dietary intervention. They also measured levels of myostatin (a hormone that inhibits muscle growth) and leptin (a hormone that maintains bodyfat stores) in the animals' blood.

They found that vitamin D-deficient mice had poor strength and low muscle mass. Boosting vitamin D levels to normal (20-30 ng/mL) increased the animals' muscle strength but did not increase muscle mass. However, raising vitamin D to high concentrations increased both strength and muscle mass. This increase occurred without a corresponding weight increase but with a decrease in fat mass, implying that vitamin D redistributed dietary calories from fat to muscle. Higher vitamin D concentrations were associated with reductions in myostatin levels and increases in leptin levels.

These findings suggest that high vitamin D concentrations decrease myostatin production and increase leptin production, redirecting excess calories to muscle growth instead of fat storage. Learn more about the health benefits of vitamin D in our comprehensive overview article.

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