While previous research examining the link between vitamin D and type 1 diabetes has been inconclusive, a study published in Diabetes has found evidence suggesting vitamin D may play a role in lowering the risk of islet autoimmunity—the condition that underlies type 1 diabetes, in which the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The study included data from 8,676 children with a genetic predisposition to developing type 1 diabetes who were participating in the Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young study. Every three months from ages 3 to 4, the children had blood drawn to determine their vitamin D levels and the presence of islet autoimmunity. When researchers compared data from a subgroup of 376 children who did develop islet autoimmunity with data from 1,041 matched children who didn’t develop islet autoimmunity, they found:
Higher vitamin D levels were associated with a lower risk of islet autoimmunity.
Every 5 nmol/L increase in vitamin D was correlated with a 7% decreased risk of developing islet autoimmunity.
Specific gene variations affecting vitamin D receptors were also correlated with islet autoimmunity risk.
These findings suggest vitamin D and vitamin D receptors may be joint factors in the development of islet autoimmunity in children with an increased genetic risk for type 1 diabetes. Ensuring your child has adequate vitamin D levels is important, regardless of your child’s genetic makeup, as vitamin D deficiency can lead to bone disorders like rickets and other health problems. Although our bodies make vitamin D when we’re exposed to sunlight, sometimes extra sources are needed. Foods that can help top up our vitamin D levels include fatty fish and fish oil, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products, juices, alternative milks, and cereals. Vitamin D supplements may also be a good choice, but be sure to talk with your child’s pediatrician before adding any supplements to their regimen.