Lack of vitamin D puts healthy people at greater risk for diabetes, findings by epidemiologists from UCSD and Seoul National University suggests.

A cohort study of 903 healthy adults with no history of either prediabetes or diabetes measured the vitamin D levels of the participants in the blood, as well as fasting plasma glucose and glucose tolerance from 1997 to 1999 and were followed through 2009. 

Sufficient Level Of Vitamin D

Over the 10-year period, the researchers noted 47 new cases of diabetes and 337 new cases of prediabetes. They reported that the participants had elevated blood sugar but were not enough to categorize them as type 2 diabetes.

"We found that participants with blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D that were above 30 nanograms per milliliter had one-third of the risk of diabetes and those with levels above 50 nanograms per milliliter had one-fifth of the risk of developing diabetes," said study author Dr. Sue K. Park, from Seoul National University College of Medicine in South Korea.

Co-author Dr. Cedric F. Garland, adjunct professor at the UCSD School of Medicine, said that people with 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels lower than 30 nanograms per milliliter were considered deficient in vitamin D.

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine recommended 20 nanograms per milliliter of vitamin D levels in the blood plasma. However, many groups challenged the idea and argued that a person should have at least 50 nanograms per milliliter of vitamin D in the body, although it is still a widely debated topic.

Garland said that further studies are needed to determine if high levels of vitamin D can prevent type 2 diabetes or the transition from prediabetes to diabetes.

The study was published April 19 on PLOS One.

What Makes People Vitamin D Deficient?

A 2006 study determined that age and lifestyle can contribute to vitamin D deficiency.

"The mechanisms needed to synthesize its structure from cholesterol become less efficient through time, as is the case with most intrinsic synthesizing methods in the human body," said Dr. Mark Moyad in an article published in Medscape.

Moyad also cited a related study in 2008 stating that lower levels of vitamin D are prevalent in individuals with huge deposits of fat in their belly or visceral obesity. Individuals with high cholesterol levels show lower vitamin D levels while those taking with cholesterol-lowering agents such as statins may experience better vitamin D synthesis.

Benefits Of Vitamin D

Vitamin D, also called the sunshine vitamin, is essential for bone health. It aids in the absorption of calcium and phosphorous. Also, it helps in normal immune function.

Studies have shown that natural sources and supplementation of vitamin D reduces risks of multiple sclerosis, heart diseases, and flu. One study also found that vitamin D helps regulate mood and prevent depression.

Recently, researchers at Cambridge University reported that people who had regularly taken vitamin D and calcium supplements were able to lose more weight than those in the placebo group.

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