This study investigated whether alterations in bone mineral content (BMC) and/or in the phosphate-calcium metabolism exist in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM); whether they are linked to glycaemic control and whether antidiabetic therapy--oral agents or insulin--influences BMC and mineral metabolism. A cross-section assessment compared BMC and mineral metabolism in 60 well-controlled and 50 poorly controlled diabetic patients under oral hypoglycaemic therapy with 50 healthy controls. A longitudinal assessment improved the high glucose levels of the poorly controlled diabetic group either by increasing oral treatment or by adding a bedtime NPH insulin. Glycaemic control, BMC and mineral metabolism were followed-up for 1 year. In NIDDM patients BMC is reduced. This reduction is more marked in poorly controlled diabetic patients. In well-controlled diabetes osteocalcin levels are low. In poorly controlled patients glycosuria, hypercalcuria and parathyroid hyperactivity are present. In both groups vitamins 25(OH)-D, 1,25(OH)2-D and calcitonin levels are normal. Improving metabolic control increased BMC, normalized urinary calcium excretion and parathyroid activity and reduced osteocalcin levels. The type of anti-diabetic therapy does not have any significant effect upon BMC or upon phosphate-calcium metabolism. In conclusion, in NIDDM a hard-to-define osteoblast deficit appears to exist. In poorly controlled diabetes the loss of BMC is aggravated by the negative calcium balance caused by the renal calcium leak. This is due to glucosuric-induced osmotic diuresis and is maintained by parathyroid activation.