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Vitamin D may improve pancreas function

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    Vitamin D may improve pancreas function

    July 12, 2011

    By Eric Schultz

    NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Vitamin D supplements reduced risk factors for type 2 diabetes by improving the function of insulin-producing cells in pre-diabetic volunteers, a new study has found.

    "The results...suggest that vitamin D supplementation may help to improve the main defect in type 2 diabetes," said co-author Dr. Anastassios Pittas of Tufts University in Boston, in an email to Reuters Health.

    He and his colleagues gave 92 pre-diabetic adults either vitamin D3 supplements, calcium supplements, both, or placebo.

    After four months, vitamin D had significantly increased patients' beta-cell function, according to results published online June 29th in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The vitamin D group also had slightly more favorable hemoglobin A1C levels.

    Calcium had no effect on beta-cell function, either alone or in combination with vitamin D.

    The results don't necessarily indicate that vitamin D will reduce the likelihood of diabetes, since the study just measured blood test results. However, the important finding is that "supplementation affects biology," said Dr. Ian De Boer, a nephrologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who was not involved in the study.

    In comments to Reuters Health, he estimated that vitamin D improved beta-cell function between 15% and 30% in this study.

    Previous research has explored the connection between vitamin D and diabetes, with mixed results. Several studies have suggested that low vitamin D may raise the risk for diabetes, but most have been unable to show that vitamin D supplementation is preventive.

    One recent study from Iran did show that vitamin D could help control blood sugar levels.

    "These findings are interesting but preliminary," cautioned Dr. Susan Kirkman of the American Diabetes Association.

    "Vitamin D may have a role in delaying the progression to clinical diabetes in adults at high risk of type 2 diabetes," wrote the authors of the new study, but they agree that role has not been adequately demonstrated.

    "At this point, I would not recommend vitamin D based on the results of our study for prevention of diabetes," Dr. Pittas said. However, he added, with larger and longer studies of vitamin D's connection to diabetes currently underway, a more definitive answer could be forthcoming.

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