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Do Calcium and Vitamin D Play a Role in Diabetes Prevention?

Posted: August 30, 2011

Is there a connection between calcium, vitamin D and diabetes? Researchers are investigating the effects of these two important nutrients and how they might play a role in diabetes prevention.

Researchers have worked over the past 10 years to investigate the effects of calcium and vitamin D on our health and have successfully come to one conclusion: both are very important in maintaining our health. From providing skeletal strength, to increasing immunity, and preventing cancer and diabetes, these nutrients are essential to a healthy diet. 

Beyond their determined importance, however, research provides inconclusive and inconsistent results in defining the functions of calcium and vitamin D in our bodies.  Research has yet to answer the questions that health professionals continue to ask: what processes can these nutrients affect in order to provide desired health outcomes, and how much of each nutrient is needed to produce results? 

In an effort to make sense of these findings, the Institute of Medicine elected a committee of well-informed educators and researchers to reevaluate the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) levels for calcium and vitamin D in the American diet.  Although many questions remain unanswered, the committee was successful in updating DRI levels for the nutrients, as well as explaining some of the reasons why researching these nutrients has proven to be so challenging. 

Determining specific DRI categories for men and women of different ages has been difficult for a few reasons. First, calcium and vitamin D work as complementary nutrients physiologically, so distinguishing their separate effects is challenging, especially when most studies administer the nutrients together.  Second, the metabolic functions of these nutrients is not fully understood at this point, specifically regarding vitamin D. Since the nutrient is also synthesized by sunlight, determining a set dietary amount remains difficult. 

Exceptions aside, however, the committee has determined DRI requirements in terms of Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) and Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for adult categories. A full range of suggestions can be found at: http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/nal_display/index.php?info_center=4&tax_level=1  

Research has found that calcium and vitamin D play an important role in skeletal health, but how much of a role do they play in diabetes prevention? Studies still have yet to show a cause and effect relationship, however vitamin D deficiency is common in patients with diabetes. So what does this mean? 

Even though vitamin D deficiency is not found to be a direct cause of diabetes, there seems to be a connection. Ongoing research is working to establish this connection, but until then, a direct link between vitamin D and diabetes is not conclusively established.