Vitamin D may help prevent those at risk for diabetes from developing the disease, giving doctors and patients a potential tool against the condition, researchers said.
Patients with the highest amounts of vitamin D in their body were about 25 percent less likely than those with the lowest amounts to develop Type 2 diabetes, according to a study released yesterday at the American Diabetes Association’s annual meeting in San Diego. The research involved 2,039 people with higher-than-normal blood sugar levels, a condition called prediabetes.
Most Americans receive their vitamin D from fortified foods like milk and from exposure to the sun. It is also found in fatty fishes such as salmon and tuna, according to the National Institutes of Health. Vitamin D may help the body produce more of the hormone insulin or may increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin, said Anastassios Pittas, the study’s lead author.
“Vitamin D level is an excellent marker for health,” said Pittas, co-director of the Diabetes Center at Tufts Medical Center in Boston in a June 21 telephone interview. “It may all be explained by underlying good health behaviors that we aren’t calculating. People who see this, they are looking for a magic bullet to avoid what really needs to be done, which is lifestyle modifications to avoid diabetes.”
More than 220 million people worldwide have diabetes and about 90 percent have the Type 2 form of the condition, according to the World Health Organization. People who are obese are most at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, in which the body doesn’t produce enough insulin needed to convert blood sugar to energy, or the cells ignore the insulin, according to the NIH.
Left untreated, Type 2 diabetes can lead to heart attack, stroke and blindness.
More studies are needed to understand whether vitamin D is lowering the diabetes risk or some other factor, Pittas said.
A separate Australian study being presented at the meeting found that young people with the Type 1 form of the disease who were vitamin D deficient were twice as likely as those with sufficient vitamin D to have eye problems. In Type 1 diabetes, which is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, the body doesn’t produce the hormone insulin, according to the American Diabetes Association. It’s unclear why the deficiency causes the eye problems, the authors said.