The Sunshine Vitamin: Can it Prevent Type 2 Diabetes?

George Washington University Literature Review Finds Evidence to Suggest this Vitamin Plays a Role in Healthy Sugar Metabolism

WASHINGTON (June 20, 2023) - Vitamin D may play an important role in the prevention of Type 2 Diabetes, according to an analysis published today by researchers at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. 

Vitamin D supplements have long been known to guard against bone loss and the brittle bones of osteoporosis. However, a new review of the literature suggests that people with vitamin D deficiency are at greater risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, a metabolic disease that results in high blood glucose (sugar) and affects about 36 million people in the United States.

The research suggests that most people don’t get enough vitamin D, Leigh A. Frame, associate professor of clinical research & leadership at the GW School of Medicine & Health Sciences and senior author of the paper, said. 

Scientists know that vitamin D reduces inflammation by regulating the immune system. Increasing evidence suggests that it supports healthy blood sugar and metabolism, perhaps similar to its role in immune regulation. Vitamin D is found in small amounts in some foods, like fatty fish, but the main source is from production in the skin when exposed to sunshine–a problem in our modern society where most people are indoors much of the day.

Frame and her colleagues reviewed the scientific literature and found that, while the results were mixed, there is evidence to suggest that vitamin D deficiency in people with prediabetes was associated with a greater risk of developing the full-blown disease.

Additional research must be done to find out if vitamin D supplements might be used to reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes and to figure out the mechanism offering the protection. It is possible that sun exposure may have benefits beyond vitamin D, for instance, which would indicate that a supplement is not enough, Frame said.

According to the National Institutes of Health people with prediabetes can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes with the known strategies of losing a small amount of weight, eating a healthy diet, and being more physically active throughout the day. 

“People concerned about their risk for Type 2 Diabetes should talk to their healthcare team about ways to stay healthy including maintaining a healthy vitamin D status,” Frame said, adding that Type 2 Diabetes and other metabolic disorders can lead to additional serious health problems including kidney and eye disease and cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.

The article, “Clarifying the Heterogeneity in Response to Vitamin D in the Development, Prevention, and Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Narrative Review,” was published June 20, 2023 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Authors of the paper include Frame, Jacob Hands, a first year medical student, and Patrick Corr, an assistant professor of clinical research and leadership–all at the GW School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

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