Vitamin D and insulin resistance

Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2016 Feb;84(2):159-171. doi: 10.1111/cen.12760. Epub 2015 Mar 26.


Vitamin D is a steroid hormone, which in active form binds to the vitamin D receptor. Expression of the vitamin D receptor in diverse cell types (pancreatic islet cells, myocytes, hepatocytes and adipocytes) raises the suspicion that vitamin D may be involved in multiple cellular processes, including the response to insulin. Insulin resistance is a characteristic feature of type 2 DM, and its attenuation may reduce the incidence of type 2 DM and cardiovascular disease. In observational studies, low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OHD) concentrations are associated with an increased risk of type 2 DM. It has been suggested that increasing serum 25-OHD concentrations may have beneficial effects on glucose and insulin homeostasis. However, cross-sectional and interventional studies of vitamin D supplementation provide conflicting results and demonstrate no clear beneficial effect of vitamin D on insulin resistance. These studies are complicated by inclusion of different patient cohorts, different 25-OHD assays and different doses and preparations of vitamin D. Any possible association may be confounded by alterations in PTH, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D or tissue vitamin D concentrations. We identified 39 studies via MEDLINE and PUBMED. We review the evidence from 10 studies (seven observational and three interventional) examining vitamin D and type 2 DM incidence, and 29 studies (one prospective observational, 12 cross-sectional and 16 interventional trials) examining vitamin D and insulin resistance. Based on this data, it is not possible to state that vitamin D supplementation has any effect on type 2 DM incidence or on insulin resistance. Data from the multiple ongoing randomized controlled trials of vitamin D supplementation due to report over the next few years should help to clarify this area.

Publication types

  • Review