Abnormal Ca homeostasis has been associated with impaired glucose metabolism. However, the epidemiological evidence is controversial. We aimed to assess the association between circulating Ca levels and the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) or abnormal glucose homeostasis through conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eligible studies were identified by searching electronic database (PubMed, Embase and Google Scholar) and related references with de novo results from primary studies up to December 2018. A random-effects meta-analysis was performed to estimate the weighted relative risks (RR) and 95 % CI for the associations. The search yielded twenty eligible publications with eight cohort studies identified for the meta-analysis, which included a total of 89 165 participants. Comparing the highest with the lowest category of albumin-adjusted serum Ca, the pooled RR was 1·14 (95 % CI 1·05, 1·24) for T2DM (n 51 489). Similarly, serum total Ca was associated with incident T2DM (RR 1·25; 95 % CI 1·10, 1·42) (n 64 502). Additionally, the adjusted RR for 1 mg/dl increments in albumin-adjusted serum Ca or serum total Ca levels was 1·16 (95 % CI 1·07, 1·27) and 1·19 (95 % CI 1·11, 1·28), respectively. The observed associations remained with the inclusion of a cohort study with ionised Ca as the exposure. However, data pooled from neither case–control (n 4) nor cross-sectional (n 8) studies manifested a significant correlation between circulating Ca and glucose homeostasis. In conclusion, accumulated data from the cohort studies suggest that higher circulating Ca levels are associated with an augmented risk of T2DM.