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Low Vitamin D levels increase risk of type 1 diabetes

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
type 1 diabetes, insulin, Vitamin D, prevention, risk

Vitamin D has been reported to decrease the risk of a number of diseases. A new study has reported a strong correlation between low Vitamin D levels and type 1 diabetes. Researchers affiliated with the Naval Research Center (San Diego, California) and the University of San Diego (La Jolla, California) published their findings in the December issue of the journal Diabetologia.

The investigators examined frozen blood samples drawn between 2002 and 2008 from 1,000 active-duty military personnel, who all later developed Type 1 diabetes. They matched each of these individuals with a sample from a healthy person of the same age and sex drawn within two days of the same date. They then tracked cases through 2011. The average elapsed time between serum collection and first diagnosis of diabetes was one year (range: 1 month to 10 years). The researchers then conducted a statistical analysis by a method known as conditional logical regression with matched pairs.

The researchers divided the subjects into five groups (quintiles), depending on their serum Vitamin D levels. They then construct odds ratios (ORs), which were indicative of the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. The ORs for diabetes, which required insulin injections, by quintile (lowest to highest) were: 3.5, 2.5, 0.8, 1.1, and 1.0. The quintiles for Vitamin D levels (nanomol/liter; lowest to highest) in the controls were: less than 43 (median 28), 43–59
(median 52), 60–77 (median 70), 78–99 (median 88), and greater than 100 (median 128).

The authors concluded that individuals with lower serum Vitamin D levels had higher risk of insulin requiring diabetes than those with higher concentrations. A 3.5-fold lower risk was associated with serum Vitamin D levels of 60 nmol/l or greater.

Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age; however, it is most often diagnosed in children, adolescents, or young adults. Insulin is a hormone produced by special cells, called beta cells, in the pancreas, an organ located in the area behind your stomach. Insulin is needed to move blood sugar (glucose) into cells, where it is stored and later used for energy. In type 1 diabetes, these cells produce little or no insulin.

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Without enough insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of going into the cells. The body is unable to use this glucose for energy. This leads to the symptoms of type 1 diabetes. Within 5 - 10 years, the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas are completely destroyed and the body can no longer produce insulin. The exact cause is unknown, but most likely there is a viral or environmental trigger in genetically susceptible people that causes an immune reaction. The body's white blood cells mistakenly attack the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells.

Some individuals will have no symptoms before they are diagnosed with diabetes. Others may notice these symptoms as the first signs of type 1 diabetes, or when the blood sugar is high:

  • Feeling tired or fatigued
  • Feeling hungry
  • Being very thirsty
  • Urinating more often
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Having blurry vision
  • Losing the feeling or feeling tingling in your feet

For others, warning symptoms that they are becoming very sick may be the first signs of type 1 diabetes, or may happen when the blood sugar is very high:

  • Deep, rapid breathing
  • Dry skin and mouth
  • Flushed face
  • Fruity breath odor
  • Nausea or vomiting, unable to keep down fluids
  • Stomach pain

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can develop quickly in people with diabetes who are taking insulin. Symptoms typically appear when the blood sugar level falls below 70. Watch for:

  • Headache
  • Hunger
  • Nervousness
  • Rapid heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Weakness

Reference: Diabetologia

See also: Vitamin D reported to lower the risk of multiple sclerosis