For children with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes, taking a vitamin D supplement along with standard insulin therapy may help slow the progression of diabetes, according to a new study published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.
Finding ways to delay the onset or progression of type 1 diabetes (T1D) — as early as possible, for as long as possible — has been the aim of many diabetes researchers in recent years. This research has led to discoveries that may yield breakthrough treatments, such as an immunotherapy drug shown to delay the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in children who have a close family member with type 1. At the same time, vitamin D supplements have been the topic of numerous studies — particularly because so many people in the United States are believed to have vitamin D insufficiency. Vitamin D is found in certain foods — including milk with added vitamin D — but its main source, so to speak, is skin exposure to sunlight, which leads to the body’s own production of vitamin D. Recent studies have shown that taking vitamin D may reduce the risk for autoimmune diseases in older adults, and can help improve blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes.
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For the latest study, researchers compared taking a vitamin D supplement with not taking one in 36 participants with type 1 diabetes. All participants had received a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes less than three months before enrolling in the study and were between the ages of 10 and 21. They also had a stimulated C-peptide level — a measure of insulin production by the pancreas — of at least 0.2 nmol/l, indicating some remaining insulin production. Among the 18 participants who were randomly assigned to take vitamin D, there were 10 males and 8 females, and the average age was 13.3. In the control group that took a placebo (inactive pill), there were 14 males and 4 females, and the average age was 14.3. Members of the vitamin D group took 50,000 IU of vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) once every week for two months, then once every two weeks for 10 months — for a total study period of 12 months.
Vitamin D may be beneficial in children with newly diagnosed T1D
Not surprisingly, member of the vitamin D group had significantly higher blood levels of vitamin D after six months and after nine months. The researchers also found that trends for rising blood glucose over time appeared blunted in the vitamin D group, as noted in a press release on the study. The same was true for trends in insulin-adjusted blood glucose levels — a measure of the body’s own insulin production. Together, these trends indicate that vitamin D may be beneficial in children with newly diagnosed type 1, but the researchers didn’t find clear-cut evidence that taking vitamin D directly improved blood glucose control. The study was also too short to look for any differences in long-term outcomes between he two groups.
“Our study is the first to demonstrate significant functional and dynamic differences between [vitamin D] and placebo,” said study author Benjamin Udoka Nwosu, MD, a professor of pediatrics at UMass Chan Medical School, in the press release. “It is also the longest of such studies in an exclusive pediatric type 1 diabetes population using a standardized insulin regimen and high dose [vitamin D].” The next planned step, Nwosu says, is to launch a longer-term clinical trial to find out if taking vitamin D could lead to partial remission of type 1 diabetes in a similar group of children with a recent diagnosis.
Want to learn more about vitamin D? Read “Vitamin D: Making Sure You Get Enough.”