Vitamin D used to be discussed simply in the context of rickets, the dramatic weakening and softening of bones caused by severe calcium and phosphorous deficiency (a condition directly linked to severe vitamin D deficiency).
For many years, this myopic view kept the medical mainstream’s focus on preserving only the minimum levels of vitamin D necessary to maintain bone health. While warding off rickets is certainly a worthy goal, it’s just one of vitamin D’s countless functions.
Though we’ve known of vitamin D’s vital and multi-faceted role in maintaining health for some time, only in recent years have we begun to take this knowledge to heart.
Even the mainstream now acknowledges that vitamin D—which isn’t just a vitamin, but actually a steroid hormone—directly affects nearly every cell in your body. It’s essential for the health of every major system in the body—it protects the heart and brain, bolsters the immune system, ensures the integrity and proper signaling of cells throughout the body, prevents mood imbalances and mental illnesses, and even facilitates DNA repair. And that’s just scratching the surface.
One of the more unexpected ways benefits of this essential nutrient is its ability to prevent and heal insulin resistance and diabetes.
Vitamin D deficiency and diabetes risk
Researchers have suspected for some time that vitamin D plays a role in healthy glucose metabolism, but recent studies have confirmed that it’s even more invaluable than previously thought. In fact, vitamin D deficiency may be more closely linked to the development of type 2 diabetes than obesity (which was once considered one of its greatest risk factors).
Researchers determined this link by observing that individuals with low vitamin D serum levels are dramatically more likely to be pre-diabetic or diabetic, regardless of their weight. In other words, vitamin D deficiency is an even more accurate predictor of your diabetes risk than whether or not you’re overweight.
The exciting takeaway of this study is that you can significantly lower your risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes by maintaining optimal vitamin D serum levels (40-60 ng/ml).
This prescription is supported by other studies too, including one that conclusively demonstrated that vitamin D supplementation can prevent pre-diabetes from progressing into fully developed type 2 diabetes. Astoundingly, every unit increase in vitamin D levels decreased study participants’ risk of progressing into diabetes by 8%.
Natural healing for diabetics
And vitamin D’s diabetes-healing abilities aren’t limited to prevention—many studies have demonstrated that raising vitamin D levels can aid those who already have diabetes, as well.
One prominent study found that type 2 diabetics who were given 50,000 IU of vitamin D per week for eight weeks experienced reductions in both fasting plasma glucose and insulin, and another study demonstrated that vitamin D supplementation increased insulin sensitivity by a whopping 54%.
While the mechanisms by which vitamin D works its magic are complex, there are a couple notable reasons why it’s particularly healing for metabolic disorders. For starters, studies have shown that vitamin D is one of the primary factors that regulate and normalize insulin secretion. Other experts believe that its effect upon calcium and phosphorous metabolism (the mechanism by which it keeps bones strong) is linked to a modulation of glucose metabolism (and thus to insulin sensitivity). Vitamin D even heals diabetes epigenetically by upregulating (i.e. “turning on”) the gene that controls insulin receptors, thereby increasing insulin sensitivity.
So whether you’re already living with diabetes or simply want to prevent its onset, maintaining optimal vitamin D serum levels is a wise choice.
Get tested and take action
First things first: get your vitamin D level tested in order to determine whether you have a deficiency (the test can easily be ordered by any doctor, and there are many at-home test kits available too). If you’ve never supplemented with vitamin D, you’re probably deficient, but it’s still helpful to know exactly how far your serum levels are from optimal.
Next, make a plan that allows you to maintain an optimal level of 40-60 ng/ml year-round. Sun exposure is the easiest and most powerful way to get vitamin D (contrary to popular opinion, sun avoidance is much more dangerous than the sun itself). Depending on your skin tone, 8-24 minutes of direct sun exposure (on as much of your body as possible) will allow your body to manufacture all the vitamin D it needs.
This approach poses problems during non-summer months, though (especially in northern latitudes), so you’ll need to get your vitamin D from other sources too. Eating vitamin-D-rich foods like fatty fish, eggs, and vitamin-D-fortified products are a good start, but supplementation is by far your best option.
Most importantly, don’t put this off! Making the effort to maintain healthy vitamin D levels just might be one of the simplest and most powerful ways you can optimize your health on every level.