That glass of vitamin-fortified milk may do much more than help develop strong bones or give you a cool mustache, as investigators from Laval University in Quebec have just released findings from a new study that shows vitamin D supplementation may slow the progression of type 2 diabetes in newly diagnosed patients and those with prediabetes. Type 2 diabetes is an increasingly prevalent disease that places a huge burden on patients and society and can lead to serious health problems including nerve damage, blindness, and kidney failure.

Findings from the new study—published recently in the European Journal of Endocrinology through an article titled “Effects of 6-Month Vitamin D Supplementation on Insulin Sensitivity and Secretion: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial”—suggest that high-dose supplementation of vitamin D can improve glucose metabolism to help prevent the development and progression of diabetes.

People at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes (prediabetes) can be identified by several risk factors including obesity or a family history of the disease. Although low vitamin D levels have previously been associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, some studies have reported no improvement in metabolic function. However, these often had a low number of participants or included individuals with normal vitamin D levels at the start who were metabolically healthy, or who had long-standing type 2 diabetes. Whether vitamin D supplementation has any beneficial effect in patients with prediabetes or with newly diagnosed diabetes, especially in those who have low vitamin D levels, remains uncertain.

In the current study, the Laval University team examined the effect of vitamin D supplementation on glucose metabolism in patients newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or identified as at high risk of developing the condition. Markers of insulin function and glucose metabolism were measured before and after six months of high-dose vitamin D supplementation (approximately 5–10 times the recommended dose). Though only 46% of study participants were determined to have low vitamin D levels at the start of the study, supplementation with vitamin D significantly improved the action of insulin in muscle tissue of participants after six months.

“The reason we saw improvements in glucose metabolism following vitamin D supplementation in those at high risk of diabetes, or with newly diagnosed diabetes, while other studies failed to demonstrate an effect in people with long-standing type 2 diabetes is unclear,” explained Claudia Gagnon, MD, an assistant professor at Laval University. “This could be due to the fact that improvements in metabolic function are harder to detect in those with a longer-term disease or where longer treatment time is needed to see the benefits.”

Gagnon suggests future studies should evaluate whether there are individual clinical or genetic factors that affect how different people respond to vitamin D supplementation and if the positive effect on metabolism is maintained in the longer term.

“Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes are a growing public health concern and although our results are promising, further studies are required to confirm our findings, to identify whether some people may benefit more from this intervention, and to evaluate the safety of high-dose vitamin D supplementation in the long term,” Gagnon concluded. “Until then I would suggest that current vitamin D supplementation recommendations be followed.”

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