Spring 2014

The Link Between Vitamin D and Diabetes

Tufts professor will lead study of patients in 17 states

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

Bess Dawson-Hughes, ’75, director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, is the co-investigator. Pittas, also an adjunct professor at the Friedman School at Tufts, and his colleagues will receive the National Institutes of Health grant over five years.

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. Researchers will track them over four years to see whether they develop diabetes. Results of the study are expected in 2018.

The D2d study is the first of its kind to specifically examine whether vitamin D can help prevent Type 2 diabetes.

Earlier studies by Pittas and others have suggested a strong link between vitamin D and a reduced risk of developing the disease. Other research has 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 beneficial effects has made it one of the top-selling supplements in the country, with $425 million in annual sales.

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

Top Stories

Tell Me More

Because interviewing patients effectively is such a precious skill in medicine, Tufts has redoubled its emphasis on teaching students how to do it right

Editor's Picks

A Life Regained

Overcoming the odds for her critically wounded patient came naturally