Vitamin D – a missing piece of the diabetes puzzle?

Copyright All rights reserved by Free 2 Be

Copyright All rights reserved by Free 2 Be

In my post Vitamin D- the new superstar , I pointed to the potential far reaching consequences of  low vitamin D levels in the blood. While many have been widely promoted,  the links between this nutrient and the development of type 2 diabetes have not been getting much attention. And considering we may be heading towards an epidemic of this illness, it’s time to shed some light on the topic.

But first a little background on type 2 diabetes. Unlike the situation with type 1 diabetes, where there is no insulin produced by the body to regulate blood sugar readings,  with type 2 diabetes, initially there is plenty of insulin.  But the body is    insensitive to its action – a condition called  insulin resistance.  As the resistance to insulin increases, blood sugar levels can climb and lead to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

If you have diabetes, you’re also at a significantly greater risk for a long list of maladies including cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney disease and  vision problems.
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It’s no surprise then that prevention and better blood sugar control for those with diabetes is critical.

On the prevention front, carrying extra weight around your midsection is linked to insulin resistance and an increased risk of developing diabetes.  But what’s often been left out of the discussion is that low vitamin D readings are also associated with a decrease in insulin sensitivity.

In research published in Current Diabetes Reviews,  when vitamin D-deficient rabbits  with  impaired insulin sensitivity  were supplemented with the vitamin,  the insulin resistance  was reversed.

It’s preliminary research but it is fascinating to think that vitamin D may play a role in decreasing the skyrocketing rates of this disease.

Now here’s more food for thought:  Obesity also goes hand in hand with having lower levels of vitamin D in the blood. Low vitamin D may also influence fat deposits. In addition, the sunshine vitamin may affect the actual release of insulin from the pancreas as well.

Here are some more interesting tidbits about the type 2 diabetes- vitamin D link:

•    Both blood levels of vitamin D and blood  readings in those with diabetes  seem to fluctuate seasonally -during the winter, when vitamin D levels tend  to be low, blood sugar levels are often on the higher side.

•    Research from the  University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas which looked  at both obese and normal weight  children, found that low vitamin D levels are more common in obese children and are also linked to risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

•    In a study from Tufts New England Medical Center, researchers compared intensive lifestyle modification or the medication metformin (which increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin)  to a  placebo for prevention of diabetes in patients with prediabetes.

The subjects were followed for over three years, during which time blood levels of vitamin D were measured yearly.  Those in both the treatment and placebo groups with the highest vitamin D measures were the least likely to develop diabetes.

The diabetes –vitamin D connection  is definitely a hotbed of research with more answers to come. In the meanwhile, if you’re at risk  for diabetes, it would definitely be a wise idea to take heed of meeting your sunshine vitamin quota .

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Do you take vitamin D supplements? If not, is it something you are considering? Please share your thoughts below in the comment section.

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Categories: Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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