For decades, the focus on sunlight exposure has been rather negative. Almost everyone in Malaysia constantly complains about "how hot it is", and the media doesn't help much by focusing on the "negative impact of the sun's harmful rays".
The truth is that the sun isn't as bad as it has been made up to be by magazines, television shows, books, etc. Sunshine is critical for the making of vitamin D, which is vital for calcium absorption and for building strong bones, which is why milk has been fortified with it. But there is growing evidence to show that vitamin D deficiency is linked with numerous other health conditions and diseases, from cancer to heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
In this article, we will be focusing on vitamin D deficiency and diabetes.
Higher vitamin D levels, lower diabetes risk
Researchers in the US have found an inverse relationship between the level of vitamin D in the blood and the presence of risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Dr Joanna Mitri, a researcher at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, US, said that metabolic syndrome is a series of risk factors - increased triglycerides, reduced levels of "good" cholesterol, raised blood pressure, as well as elevated fasting blood sugar - that increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Individuals with the highest blood levels of vitamin D had a 48 per cent lower risk of having metabolic syndrome than those with the lowest vitamin D levels, the study found. In this study, all participants were at risk of developing diabetes because they had pre-diabetes, a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be classified as diabetes.
Lifestyle factors that cause type 2 diabetes include obesity, old age and physical inactivity. It's interesting to note that all of these factors also cause vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D is important for normal uptake of glucose into cells. It acts through a number of ways:
·On the pancreas to produce more insulin.
·On muscle and fat cells to improve insulin action by reducing insulin resistance.
·Reducing inflammation, which is commonly present in patients with insulin resistance syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
·Indirectly improving insulin production and its action by increasing the level of calcium inside cells.
We can now understand the importance of vitamin D in keeping blood glucose normal.
A study presented at the June 2010 Endocrine Society's Annual Meeting found that 91 per cent of its diabetic participants were deficient in vitamin D; as vitamin D deficiency worsened, so did diabetes control.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have also published the results of a study that examined the link between blood levels of vitamin D and insulin sensitivity.
The study found that people with low levels of vitamin D were significantly less sensitive to insulin; hence more insulin had to be secreted to remove sugar from the bloodstream. Insulin resistance and insensitivity are risk factors for diabetes.
The more sensitive a person is to insulin's effects, the more efficiently it can do its job. The less sensitive, or more insulin resistant, the more insulin is needed to move the same amount of sugar out of the blood - a hallmark of type 2 diabetes.
Which form of vitamin D is best?
The perception that vitamin D2 and D3 are the same was based on decades-old studies of rickets prevention in infants.
Today, we know a lot more about vitamin D, and many studies now offer compelling support for the recommendation of natural vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), the same type of vitamin D made in your body upon sunlight (UVB) exposure to your skin, over plant-derived vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol).
Regardless of which form you use, your body must convert it into a more active form, and vitamin D3 is converted five times faster than vitamin D2.
Vitamin D2 also has a shorter shelf life, and its metabolites bind poorly with proteins, further hampering its effectiveness.
Since maintaining optimal vitamin D levels is vital for overall good health - from preserving strong bones and strengthening the immune system, to cancer prevention and keeping diabetes at bay, many medical experts recommend boosting your vitamin D levels by taking daily supplementation of vitamin D3 tablets.
As you age, your body's ability to make vitamin D also reduces, and if you are relying solely on sunlight and diet for your vitamin D supply, health experts now recommend a daily dose of at least between 1,000-2,000 IU.
So, are you getting the right amount of vitamin D3 for optimal health? If not, please consult your pharmacist today to start your vitamin D3 regime.