Diabetes is a growing problem in this country and, for that matter, throughout the world. It has been estimated that nearly 26 million Americans now suffer from type 2 diabetes, with a growing number of children being diagnosed with "adult-onset" diabetes. In addition to the numerous quality of life issues that stem from the condition, there are serious long term health consequences, as well.

Diabetes can lead to problems with circulation, whereby the body's inability to process sugar can result in a buildup of glucose in the blood. This, in turn, can lead to a clogged arteries and ultimately heart disease. Now researchers believe that low vitamin D levels may also play an important role.

Previous research had uncovered a potential link between vitamin D and heart disease, and now scientists believe they have found further support of this relationship. In order to arrive at their findings, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, doctors compared 43 patients with type-2 diabetes with 25 healthy subjects of similar sex, age, and body weight.

What they found was that when diabetes patients have low vitamin D levels (less than 30 ng/ml blood), certain blood cells (macrophages) were more likely to stick to the arterial walls. This causes the cells to take in cholesterol, ultimately leading to a hardening of the arteries and a reduction in the flow of blood. Vitamin D's role in all this is that it seems to work in conjunction with macrophages, which initially flow in the blood as white blood cells called monocytes. When certain monocytes encounter inflammation, they change into macrophages and no longer circulate.

The researchers determined that vitamin D played an important role even after taking into account such factors as blood pressure, serum cholesterol, body weight, sex, and race. In the end, vitamin D levels seemed to be the most significant determining factor as to whether or not the macrophages stuck to the walls of the blood vessels in patients with diabetes.

The key question is whether or not vitamin D can reverse some of the health factors that contribute to heart disease. Currently animal studies are being done as well as two clinical trials in humans. Some time in the near future researchers hope to gain some insight as to whether vitamin D can have a therapeutic effect on patients at risk.

It is important to point out that no definitive conclusions have been made, and before taking any medication or food supplement, consult with a physician. If you have questions or concerns about heart disease or diabetes, talk to your doctor and visit the website for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).