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Can vitamin D help prevent Type 2 diabetes?

Researchers from the University of Glasgow, University of Bristol, University College London, and St George's, University of London have been awarded a £195,000 grant by Diabetes UK to investigate whether vitamin D has a role in reducing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

'Sunshine vitamin' and reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes

Vitamin D, often known as the 'sunshine vitamin', increases in level when the skin is exposed to sunlight and is also found in foods such as oily fish and eggs. Increased vitamin D levels have previously been associated with a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes. Until now, however, the direct causal link has never been fully investigated. The planned research project will look at factors that may explain this relationship and determine whether individuals who have a genetic make-up that leads to higher vitamin D levels throughout their life are also at lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Could vitamin D supplements help in diabetes prevention?

Lead researcher Professor Naveed Sattar from Glasgow University’s Metabolic Medicine Group, said: "By taking advantage of well-characterised existing population studies commenced more than 12 years ago, we are now able to look at samples from 9,500 people to examine links between vitamin D levels and diabetes much more rigorously than previously attempted."

Diabetes UK hopes the research findings will help establish if there is a place for further research to test whether vitamin D supplementation can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes along with other measures such as keeping active, watching your waistline and eating a healthy balanced diet.

Don't increase exposure to sun

Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said: "While there is unlikely to be one quick and easy route to prevent Type 2 diabetes, this timely research is of great importance to public health and should tell whether it is wise to invest in conducting larger trials of vitamin D supplementation in people with diabetes or who are at high risk of the condition.

"Currently we know that, while some of the risk factors associated with Type 2 diabetes are out of someone’s control, other risk factors, such as being overweight, can be acted on to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The results of research into vitamin D, if shown to be effective in reducing Type 2 diabetes risk, will add to an armoury of existing preventative measures such as weight-loss, keeping active and eating a healthy balanced diet."

Diabetes UK would not advocate that people increase their exposure to sunlight, which in itself can be harmful, or increase their intake of Vitamin D supplements based on this research/news story.

Diabetes UK vitamin D position statement

Vitamin D is essential for good bone health and for most people sunlight is the most important source of vitamin D. The time required to make sufficient vitamin D varies according to a number of environmental, physical and personal factors, but is typically short and less than the amount of time needed for skin to redden and burn.

Enjoying the sun safely, while taking care not to burn, can help to provide the benefits of vitamin D without unduly raising the risk of skin cancer. Vitamin D supplements and specific foods can help to maintain sufficient levels of vitamin D, particularly in people at risk of deficiency.

However, there is still a lot of uncertainty around what levels qualify as 'optimal' or 'sufficient'; how much sunlight different people need to achieve a given level of vitamin D; whether vitamin D protects against chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes; and the benefits and risks of widespread supplementation.

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