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Vitamin D and Diabetes: What You Need to Know

Are you getting enough vitamin D? Recent studies suggest that low vitamin D may be linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other health complications.

The Link Between Vitamin D and Diabetes

Vitamin D is essential for bone health and a healthy immune system. Our bodies produce vitamin D when we are exposed to sunlight, and it can also be obtained through diet and supplements. Vitamin D is found in foods such as fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products.

However, around 35% of adults in the United States have vitamin D deficiency. Several studies have shown a potential link between vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D). Also, a study of 100 participants found that taking a vitamin D supplement could reduce insulin resistance in T2D. Another study of 120 participants found that vitamin D levels were lower for people with T2D and that people with T2D who take vitamin D supplements may have improved glucose management. Other studies have even shown higher levels of vitamin D to be associated with a lower risk of developing T1D.

The exact mechanism by which vitamin D affects blood glucose control is not yet fully understood. Some researchers believe that vitamin D plays a role in the production and secretion of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Others suggest that vitamin D may help improve insulin sensitivity, allowing the body to use insulin more effectively.

In addition to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to other health complications that can be particularly problematic for people with diabetes. These include:

  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease – Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, which is already a leading cause of death for people with diabetes.

  • Poor bone health – Vitamin D is essential for bone health, and a deficiency can lead to weakened bones and an increased risk of fractures. This can be especially problematic for older adults with diabetes who are already at increased risk of falls and fractures.

  • Depression – Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of depression, which can be particularly challenging for people with diabetes who may already be dealing with the stress of managing their condition.

How to Ensure You're Getting Enough Vitamin D

The first step is to talk to your healthcare provider about your vitamin D status. Your provider may recommend a blood test to check your vitamin D levels.

If you are found to be deficient in vitamin D, your provider may recommend supplements. The recommended daily intake of vitamin D varies depending on age and other factors, but most adults need at least 600-800 IU per day. Your healthcare provider can help determine the appropriate dose of vitamin D for you.

In addition to supplements, there are several ways to increase your vitamin D intake through diet and lifestyle. Here are a few tips:

  • Get regular exposure to sunlight – Our bodies produce vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. Try to get at least 15-20 minutes of sun exposure on your skin every day. The best time to get sun exposure for vitamin D production is around noon when the sun is highest in the sky. However, it's important to protect your skin and prevent sunburn with sunscreen or extra clothing.

  • Eat vitamin D-rich foods – Some of the best food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna, and foods such as milk, orange juice, egg yolks and cereal.

  • Take a walk – Exercise is not only good for your overall health, but it can also help increase your vitamin D levels. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, most days of the week.

  • Consider a supplement – If you have difficulty getting enough vitamin D through diet and sun exposure, a supplement may be helpful. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist to find out the right dosage for you.