New research suggests that people deficient in vitamin D might be at a greater risk of developing diabetes. But before you start sunbathing all day long and buying every vitamin D supplement in sight in hopes of warding off the disease, it’s important to understand what the study actually says — and whether you’re truly deficient in the vitamin.
The April 2018 study, published in the PLOS One scientific journal, looked at 903 adults with an average age of 74 who had no signs of pre-diabetes or diabetes during doctor visits from 1997 to 1999. The researchers followed those same participants until 2009, measuring their vitamin D levels along the way. Throughout the course of the study, there were 47 new cases of diabetes and 337 new cases of pre-diabetes.
Study co-author Cedric F. Garland, DrPH, said people with 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels below 30 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) were considered vitamin D deficient. The researchers found these folks were up to five times at greater risk of developing diabetes than people with levels above 50 ng/ml. We realize that this number might seem alarming, but it’s also worth noting that there are some important caveats to keep in mind.
First of all, the study did not prove that vitamin D deficiency alone causes diabetes. Rather, the researchers found a connection between vitamin D deficiency and a greater risk of developing diabetes over the course of time. Additionally, the very definition of vitamin D deficiency has been hotly debated among medical experts. The minimum healthy level of 30 ng/ml used in the study is 10 ng/ml above the level recommended in 2010 by the Institute of Medicine, but many groups have argued for even higher standards than the one used in the study. The researchers also admitted that more studies are needed before they can determine whether 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels might prevent type 2 diabetes or the transition from pre-diabetes to diabetes.
If you’re concerned about your vitamin D levels, talk to your doctor about the best move to take. Always get your health practicioner’s OK before beginning any new supplement — including vitamin D.
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