Can Vitamin D Help Prevent Type 1 Diabetes?
June 12, 2008
By: Dan Weiman for Diabetes1
The causes of type 1 diabetes are largely unknown, but our understanding of the disease is growing at a quick rate. We know the disease does have some genetic basis, but children do not necessarily show signs of having the disease early in their lives. Type 1 diabetes is also categorized as an auto-immune disease, because the islet cells in the pancreas are destroyed by the body of the diabetic, and thus the body cannot
regulate its sugar levels without insulin therapy.
|Facts to know about Vitamin D:
Vitamin D is called “The Sunshine Vitamin” because the sun is the best source of vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficit can lead to rickets in children and osteoporosis or osteomalacia in adults.
Though vitamin D deficit is a particular problem for women, everyone is at risk and should take the necessary steps to protect and take care of themselves.
Depression has also been linked to vitamin D deficit and osteoporosis, because people who are depressed don’t go out as often, don’t eat as well, and exercise less.
Look for vitamin D3, which is the same as what’s produced by the sun, as opposed to vitamin D2, which is more common in supplements – vitamin D3 is considered to be approximately 40-50% more effective than vitamin D2.
In the United States, the further north you live, the less vitamin D your body produces in the winter months, but, if you get enough sun exposure during the spring, summer and fall, your body can store the excess vitamin D in its fat to be released during the winter.
Vitamin D levels should be monitored by your doctor; your doctor can order a blood test to check them.
Vitamin D is found in foods like eggs, liver fortified milk and orange juice, cod liver oil, salmon, other oily fish, some cereals, beef liver, cheese and others.
You should always take a vitamin D supplement, no matter what time of year.
However, scientists are taking a closer look at what may trigger type 1 diabetes in children. Part of the answer could lie in a vitamin deficiency. Vitamin D, known for its benefits to the immune system, has come under study as a means of possibly setting off type 1 diabetes.
Vitamin D is primarily taken into the body through exposure to sunlight. It can also be taken in through diet, normally from either fish or dairy products, or delivered by means of a dietary supplement. However, there is a nearly negligible amount of vitamin D in breast milk, which makes infants and young children very susceptible to deficiency.
Because of this risk, organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the British Government recommend giving Vitamin D supplements to breastfeeding children. While these recommendations are primarily based on making sure children developing healthy bones, they also appear to carry some weight when it comes possibly preventing the development of type 1 diabetes. A recent British study found that children that take Vitamin D supplements are 30 percent less likely to develop type 1 diabetes. The study also notes that there is a positive correlation with amount of vitamin D taken in through supplements and having a lower chance of developing type 1.
The study was done with knowledge from earlier studies that suggest that countries in which children get little exposure to sunlight have higher rates of type 1 diabetes, and a study that showed that people with type 1 diabetes have lower levels of vitamin D than non-diabetics.
While vitamin D deficiency is not a proven cause of type 1 diabetes, there are some strong correlations. For example, the study that found that children more exposed to sunlight were less likely to develop diabetes reported that children in Finland were 400 times more likely to develop diabetes than children in Venezuela. Another study also found that children with rickets, a common side-effect of vitamin D deficiency, are also more likely to have type 1 diabetes. Furthermore, we know that the pancreas has cells with receptors for vitamin D proteins to dock, although the reason for this is unclear.
While the governments and medical authorities are hesitant to declare a strong connection between diabetes and low vitamin D levels, research on the connection will likely continue.