Not Getting Enough Vitamin D May Increase Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Study Finds

Though more research is needed, an observational study on about 900 healthy, mostly white older adults suggests that the more vitamin D you take in, the lower your risk of the disease.

Previous research suggests that having deficient levels of vitamin D may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, and study results released this month seem to support that association.

The study, which was published in the April edition of PLoS One, followed 903 healthy adults for 12 years and found that those with lower amounts of vitamin D in their blood had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes over the course of the study.

Results of the study led researchers to conclude that getting enough vitamin D reduces the chance that a person will develop the disease. “The person that takes enough vitamin D3 has only one-fifth the risk of type 2 diabetes” as someone who does not get enough of the vitamin, says one of the study’s coauthors, Cedric F. Garland, PhD, an adjunct professor at the University of California in San Diego School of Medicine. “Yet, probably 90 percent of the population is deficient in having their vitamin D at a level to prevent diabetes,” Dr. Garland says.

The body makes vitamin D3 when skin is exposed to sunlight, but the vitamin is also available in supplement form. Note that certain foods, like fortified yogurt and sardines, also contain vitamin D, but diet isn’t a primary source of the vitamin.

January 2011 article in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism notes that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends taking no more than 4,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day. But Garland argues that people need a bit more — 5,000 IU per day — so their blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, which the liver produces during vitamin D processing, reach what he says is a sufficient amount, of 50 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). (The IOM recommends 20 ng/ml as a sufficient level for most people, according to the 2011 article.)

Vitamin D is key for calcium absorption, and getting enough of the vitamin can help build strong bones and teeth, reduce inflammation, and affect immunity, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A review published in March 2016 in the World Journal of Diabetes suggests vitamin D deficiency is associated with chronic diseases including vitamin D, heart disease, kidney disease, hypertension, and cancer, but authors concluded that more clinical trials are needed. The NIH also points out that there isn’t enough data to suggest that sufficient vitamin D levels prevent any chronic disease except for those related to the bones, such as osteoporosis and osteomalacia.

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