People who are deficient in vitamin D have a five-fold increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Seoul National University.
Our bodies make vitamin D, often called the “sunshine vitamin,” when the skin is exposed to sunlight. But many Americans are deficient in vitamin D, and others live on the brink of deficiency even in the sunniest of months. Studies have linked low vitamin D levels with compromised immune systems, heart disease, and a host of other ailments.
As a gauge of vitamin D in the body, researchers measured 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the main form of vitamin D in the blood. They studied healthy adults whose mean age was 74. None had any indications of either prediabetes or diabetes when they were first monitored during doctor visits from 1997 to 1999 and then through 2009. During visits, their vitamin D levels were measured as well as their fasting blood glucose levels and their oral glucose tolerance
The researchers used a level of 30 nanograms per milliliter of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in blood plasma as a minimum healthy level. This was 10 ng/ml above the level recommended in 2010 by the Institute of Medicine, now part of the federal government’s health advisory group, The National Academies.
“We found that participants with blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D that were above 30 ng/ml had one-third of the risk of diabetes and those with levels above 50 ng/ml had one-fifth of the risk of developing diabetes,” said author Dr. Sue K. Park, of South Korea’s Seoul National University College of Medicine.
Study co-author Dr. Cedric F. Garland of the UC San Diego School of Medicine has done previous research showing connections between vitamin D deficiency and the risk of cancer. An earlier study found that the incidence of cancer declined with increased levels of vitamin D. Women with 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations of 40 ng/ml or greater had a 67 percent lower risk of cancer than women with levels of 20 ng/ml or less.
“Further research is needed on whether high 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels might prevent Type 2 diabetes or the transition from pre-diabetes to diabetes,” said Garland. “But this paper and past research indicate there is a strong association.”
The study was reported in PLOS One.
A 2016 study found that adequate vitamin D reduced the risk of acute respiratory illness in nursing home residents. Patients with an average age of 84 were studied over a 12-month period. Those who received high doses of vitamin D that averaged 3,300 to 4,300 units daily cut their risk of respiratory ailments almost in half.
Adding a high-quality vitamin D supplement to standard asthma medications can reduce the severity of asthma attacks, according to a Cochrane Review of seven randomized trials. Researchers found that giving an oral vitamin D supplement reduced the risk of severe asthma attacks requiring hospital admission or emergency department attendance in half — from 6 percent to around 3 percent.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the current recommended average daily amount of vitamin D is 400 IU for children up to 1 year; 600 IU for ages 1 to 70 years (less for pregnant or breastfeeding women) and 800 IU for persons over 70. Higher amounts are generally considered safe, but very high levels — above 125/ng/ml have been linked to side effects such as nausea and kidney damage.
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