NZ study highlights Vitamin D-diabetes link

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Pamela Von Hurst

A nutrition researcher has found that South Asian women with insulin resistance improved markedly after taking vitamin D supplements.

Pamela Von Hurst, a nutrition lecturer at the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health at Albany, conducted the study for her PhD thesis.

Ms Von Hurst says while diet and exercise play a major part in the onset of type-2 diabetes, her findings reinforce the importance of vitamin D from the sun and supplements to prevent type-2 diabetes, which has reached epidemic rates in New Zealand.

She also found evidence of vitamin D increasing bone strength in older women.

Initial screening of 235 Auckland women from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka aged 20 and older, revealed 47 per cent were insulin deficient and 84 per cent were vitamin D deficient. The 81 recruited for the study were split into two groups for a randomised controlled trial and given a vitamin D supplement or placebo.

As well as an improvement in insulin resistance among those who took vitamin D for six months, Ms Von Hurst says post-menopausal women in the study also showed a reduced rate of bone breakdown.

Ms Von Hurst undertook the study because South Asian women are known to have a higher predisposition to developing health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, yet have not been the subject of similar previous research. New Zealand's Indian population has risen from 60,000 in 2001 to more than 107,000.

Insulin resistance is largely symptom-free and sufferers are unaware of their condition. "Once it has fully developed into type-2 diabetes, it can be treated, but not cured," says Ms Von Hurst.

Diabetes New Zealand says more than 6 per cent of New Zealanders have type-2 diabetes or pre-diabetes, with numbers expected to double in the next 20 years. Ms Von Hurst says changes in lifestyle, including sun avoidance, are contributing to vitamin D deficiency.  "People seem to be incapable of doing things in moderation," she says. "There are lot of scare stories about the sun and skin cancer, but safe and sensible sun exposure does not seem to be associated with melanoma. Ideally, you should expose as much skin as possible for a very short period of time – certainly never long enough to burn or redden."

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