Putting Vitamin D to the Test

New study will examine whether taking vitamin D can help delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes in high-risk people

Anastassios Pittas, an associate professor in the School of Medicine and co-director of the Diabetes Center at Tufts Medical Center, is leading a research team on a new $40 million research project that will look at whether taking vitamin D can help delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes in people who are at high risk.

Bess Dawson-Hughes, M75, director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the HNRCA, is the co-investigator on project. Pittas, who is also an adjunct associate professor at the Friedman School, and his colleagues will receive the National Institutes of Health grant over a five-year period.

The trial, titled D2d, will take place at 20 medical centers in 17 states. About 2,500 people at high risk for diabetes will be recruited to receive either vitamin D supplements or a placebo, and will be followed for development of diabetes for approximately four years. Results of the study are expected in 2018. The D2d study is the first of its kind to specifically examine whether vitamin D has an effect on prevention of Type 2 diabetes.

Early studies by Pittas and others have suggested a strong link between vitamin D and a reduced risk of developing diabetes. Other studies have hinted that vitamin D may help conditions as varied as depression and cancer, but only its usefulness in maintaining bone health has been proven. Still, the notion that vitamin D could have far-reaching effects has made it one of the top-selling supplements in the country, with $425 million in annual sales.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for more than 69,000 fatalities in 2010. A chronic disease with no known cure, diabetes also can lead to other severe health complications, including stroke, blindness and diseases of the heart, kidney and nervous system.

For more information or to enroll in the D2d study, visit www.D2dstudy.org.

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