OCT 25, 2017 2:12 PM PDT

The Link Between Vitamin D and Diabetes

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Image: Pixabay.com

Vitamin D, also known fondly as the “sunshine vitamin,” could potentailly play a role in lowering the risk of type 1 diabetes in children.

Diabetes mellitus is one of the most common chronic disorders that is characterized by the body’s inability to regulate blood glucose levels. In type 1 diabetes, insulin is not made in enough quantities because the insulin producing cells (beta cells) are attacked and destroyed by the body’s own immune system. As a result, the body is unable to regulate blood sugar levels normally, and diabetics must take great care in monitoring their activity, diet, and glucose levels. This involves daily blood checks and even insulin injections.

Researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health set out to understand the link between vitamin D and type 1 diabetes. "For several years," said Jill Norris, the study’s lead author, "there has been controversy among scientists about whether vitamin D lowers the risk of developing of islet autoimmunity and type 1 diabetes." Islet autoimmunity refers to the body’s self-attack on the insulin producing cells in the pancreas, and previous research suggest vitamin D could help prevent the attack.  

Known chemically as 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), vitamin D is best known for its role in increasing bone strength due to its ability to increase absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate, and zinc. Interestingly, sunlight is a critical component in the synthesis of the vitamin D compound. In fact, one form of treatment for rickets – a deficiency of vitamin D, is increased exposure to sunlight.

For the study, nearly 8,700 children with genetic predisposition for type 1 diabetes were enrolled. The researchers analyzed blood samples for islet autoimmunity and vitamin D levels at every three to six months, up to four years. At the end, the researchers compared the vitamin D levels between 376 children who developed islet autoimmunity to the 1,041 children who were healthy.

The team found higher levels of vitamin D in childhood was associated with a lower risk for islet autoimmunity or type 1 diabetes. Furthermore, they found this link was stronger when a genetic variant in the vitamin D receptor gene was present.

While the study was not able to definitively link higher vitamin D to lowering type 1 diabetes, it nevertheless offers hope that in the condition could be prevented with vitamin supplements. However, further studies are necessary to establish the clinical effect of vitamin D on type 1 diabetes risks.

Additional source: MNT

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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