Vitamin D may prevent Type 1 Diabetes, based on strong scientific evidence.
The Relationship Between Vitamin D Deficiency and Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes develops due to malfunctioning of the immune system. Mounting scientific evidence indicates that Vitamin D plays a vital role in the normal functioning of the immune system. Consequently, Vitamin D deficiency can lead to malfunctioning of the immune system. Then, your own immune system starts to attack and kill your own insulin producing cells in the pancreas, reacting as if they are invading viruses that must be destroyed. Once you are unable to produce insulin, you develop Type 1 diabetes.
Researchers have investigated the level of Vitamin D in patients with Type 1 diabetes and found it to be low in the vast majority of these patients. In a study (1) published in 2009 in Pediatrics, researchers from the Joslin Diabetes Center noted that the vast majority of their Type 1 diabetic patients were low in Vitamin D. The study was done in children and teenagers. In my clinical practice, I check Vitamin D level in all of my Type 1 diabetic patients and find it to be low in virtually all of them.
Evidence That Vitamin D May Prevent Type 1 Diabetes
Scientific evidence now exists to show that proper Vitamin D supplementation can prevent Type 1 diabetes. One such study comes from Finland. This study (2) began in 1966 when a total of 10,821 children born in 1966 in northern Finland were enrolled in the study. Frequency of Vitamin D supplementation was recorded during the first year of life. At that time, the recommended dose of Vitamin D for infants in Finland was 2000 I.U. per day. These children were then followed for 31 years for the development of Type 1 diabetes. Researchers made the amazing discovery that those children who received the daily recommended dose of 2000 I.U. of Vitamin D during the first year of their life had an almost 80% reduction in the risk for the development of Type 1 diabetes compared to those children who received less Vitamin D.
This is a ground breaking study! If some drug achieved this kind of result, it would hit the headlines and become the standard of care at once. Sadly, even many diabetes experts are not aware of this astounding study even though the study was published in 2001 in the prestigious British medical journal called Lancet. Investigators in the U.S. continue to spend millions of dollars in their pursuit of a “drug” to prevent Type 1 diabetes. So far, this kind of research has produced disappointing results. Amazingly, they have largely ignored the strong evidence that shows the outstanding role of Vitamin D in preventing Type 1 diabetes. Vitamin D is not a drug. There is no glory or huge profits in simply telling people to take enough Vitamin D.
It is interesting to note that the recommended allowance of Vitamin D for infants in Finland was reduced from 2000 I.U. to 1000 I.U. per day in 1975 and then further reduced to 400 I.U. per day in 1992. (For comparison, in the U.S. it has been 200 I.U. a day). This reduction in the daily allowance had no scientific basis except the observation that this amount of Vitamin D is present in a teaspoonful of cod-liver oil which has long been considered safe and effective in preventing rickets.
In the last decades, the incidence of Type 1 diabetes in Finland has been climbing, which is most likely related to the decrease in the daily recommended allowance of Vitamin D. As of 1999, Finland has the highest reported incidence of Type 1 diabetes in the world (3). In Finland, the yearly sunshine (and therefore, Vitamin D skin synthesis) is much lower compared to more southern areas. Therefore, the population in Finland is at even higher risk for Vitamin D deficiency.
Not only in Finland, but in other countries as well, scientists have discovered the amazing power of Vitamin D supplementation in preventing Type 1 diabetes. In one such study called EURODIAB (4), researchers found Vitamin D supplementation during infancy can significantly reduce the risk for developing Type 1 diabetes. This study was carried out in seven centers in different countries across a variety of populations in Europe.
Study from the USA on Vitamin D and Type 1 Diabetes
Here is an excellent scientific study from the USA. It clearly shows that Vitamin D can prevent Diabetes.
A case-control study (5) analyzed the data from healthy military service members between 2002-2008. Blood samples for 25 OH Vitamin D level of 1000 cases who later developed Type 1 diabetes showed a clear inverse relationship between the level of Vitamin D and the risk of developing Type 1 diabetes. In other words, individuals with lower serum 25 (OH) Vitamin D concentrations had a higher risk of insulin requiring diabetes than those with higher concentrations.
Researchers also found that a serum 25 (OH) Vitamin D concentration ≥60 nmol/l (25 ng/ml) was associated with a 3.5-fold lower risk of developing Type 1 Diabetes. This reduction in the risk of developing Type 1 diabetes is huge. If some drug did this, it would become a block-buster drug. Amazingly, medical organizations continue to ignore the power of vitamin D to prevent Type 1 diabetes.
- Svoren BM, Volkening LK, Wood JR, Laffel LM. Significant vitamin D deficiency in youth with Type 1 diabetes mellitus. J Pediatr.2009;154(1):132-134.
- Hypponen E, Laara E, Reunanen A, et al. Intake of vitamin D and risk of Type 1 diabetes: a birth-cohort study. Lancet 2001;358:1500-1503.
- Onkamo P, Vaananen S, Karvonen M, Tuomilchto J. Worldwide increase in incidence of Type 1 diabetes: the analysis of the data on published incidence trends. Diabetologia 1999;42:1395-1403.
- The EURODIAB Substudy 2 Study Group. Vitamin D supplementation in early childhood and risk for Type 1 (insulin- dependent) diabetes mellitus. Diabetologia 1999;42:51-54.