Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune cells destroy the insulin-producing pancreatic cells. Various factors are associated with vitamin D deficiency, and Type 1 diabetes is one of them. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, obtained from sun or diet. Adequate vitamin D levels are important to prevent the death of pancreatic cells and improve insulin levels. It thus helps in managing sugar levels in individuals with type 1 diabetes

Diabetes Type 1 and Vitamin D Deficiency

The body’s immune cells are responsible for fighting disease-causing organisms. However, in autoimmune conditions such as Type 1 diabetes, the immune cells wrongly attack beta cells. Beta cells of the pancreas are responsible for producing insulin. Researchers believe that these beta cells have vitamin D receptors, which are proteins that allow the binding of vitamin D to the cells. Autoimmune destruction of beta cells thus results in vitamin D deficiency.

There are two forms of vitamin D, D2 and D3, which are then converted to calcitriol, the usable form of vitamin D. Calcitriol suppresses autoimmunity, preventing damage of beta cells in Type 1 diabetes.

Diabetes Type 1 and Vitamin D Deficiency Effects

Vitamin D aids insulin secretion in various ways. It enters the beta cells and interacts with receptors that stimulate the insulin gene, increasing the insulin secretion. It also prevents autoimmune destruction of beta cells by altering the effect of protein secreted by the immune system. Lastly, vitamin D regulates the use of calcium by the body – calcium playing a significant role in insulin secretion.

Inadequate vitamin D impairs insulin secretion, making it difficult to manage sugar levels.

Here is how vitamin D affects Type 1 diabetes:

  • Various studies have shown that giving vitamin D supplement in early childhood lowers the risk of Type 1 diabetes.
  • Another study has shown that higher levels of vitamin D during the last trimester of pregnancy lowers the risk of Type 1 diabetes in the baby.
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However, ones genetic makeup decides whether vitamin D supplementation can help in preventing type 1 diabetes.

The association of vitamin D and Type 1 diabetes depend on:

  • Vitamin D binding protein
  • Vitamin D receptor
  • Enzymes responsible for vitamin D supplements

A study in Canada has shown that vitamin D deficiency also increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes Type 1 and Vitamin D Deficiency Health Risks

The main function of vitamin D is the metabolism of bones; and deficiency of vitamin D results in loss of bone density, which causes osteomalacia in adults and rickets in children. The bones are weak and are thus at an increased risk of fracture.

According to Cleveland Clinic, symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are:

  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Brittle bones
  • Muscle weakness
  • Depression

Other disorders associated with vitamin D deficiency are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Psoriasis
  • Autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancer

How to Increase Your Vitamin D Intake?

Food items rich in vitamin D are:

  • Beef liver
  • Mushrooms
  • Fatty fish, such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolks

You can also get vitamin D from fortified food items such as: 

  • Breakfast cereals
  • Milk
  • Orange juice
  • Soy drinks
  • Dairy products such as yogurt

Diabetes Type 1 and Vitamin D Supplements

If you have symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, the physician might advise a blood test to confirm the diagnosis. Ideal vitamin D levels are 20-56 ng/ml, and levels below 20 are considered as deficient. Based on your levels, your doctor may prescribe vitamin D supplements. According to Canada.Ca, a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU aids in improving vitamin D levels. However, higher vitamin D levels can be harmful to certain health disorders, such as kidney failure. It is thus recommended to consult your physician before taking vitamin D supplements.

Other Health Benefits of Vitamin D

Adequate vitamin D levels aid in managing blood sugar levels in people with Type 1 diabetes, as well as helping to suppress autoimmunity present in Type 1 diabetes. 

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Vitamin D also has other health benefits, such as:

  • Manages appetite: Type 1 diabetes is often associated with increased hunger. Vitamin D regulates the hormone that provides the sensation of satiety and controls body fat storage, giving the feeling of having eaten enough, lowering your appetite.
  • Aids in weight loss: Adequate vitamin D levels are seen to reduce parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels, which triggers weight loss.
  • Decreases belly fat: Improved vitamin D levels lower the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, responsible for regulating blood pressure levels. Higher levels of cortisol are associated with increased visceral or abdominal fat.

If you have Type 1 diabetes, talk to your doctor about your vitamin D levels and get it tested.

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