UnScientific American: What About Vitamin D and Type 1 Diabetes?


I get a lot of crap from Mike (in a joking way) about not being a “real” type 1 diabetic.  Why am I not the real thing?  Because technically I have LADA, or a slow-onset form of autoimmune diabetes.  What this means is that while Mike’s diabetes onset was a blitzkrieg, my diabetes has for the most part been attacking at a leisurely pace. 

I know that I’ve had LADA for over 11 years, although I only received my official diagnosis three years ago.  Until my official diagnosis I had two gestational diabetes diagnoses.  When my not-pregnant routine blood tests showed slightly-off fasting blood sugar levels, doctors assumed I was on my way to type 2 diabetes.   If I’d been overweight or more sedentary, my LADA may have presented with symptoms.  But, no.  During all those years of beta cell decline, I didn’t have solid evidence anything serious was going on.  I often felt tired.  Who doesn’t, right?

As it goes with LADA, things have gotten worse.  Last year various, unscientific experiments  I conducted on myself showed that my beta cells could handle up to 12 grams of carb mixed with fat without injecting any rapid insulin.  Any more than that and I was sure to see a number over 140.  This seems not to be the case anymore.  The proof is in the whole grain bread, of which I ate about 12 grams of the other day, smeared with a lot of butter.  Thirty minutes later my blood sugar was 157.

Now, that 157 doesn’t mean that LADA has totally won (yet). My immune system is currently enrolled in a domestic violence program for batterers.  And if that fails, there’s the hope that I could get some Diapep277, which might slow the progression of diabetes.  And there’s something else I’m doing to try to save my remaining beta cells: I take vitamin D.  

So, why am I bringing all of this up now? An article in the current issue of Scientific American is called Diabetes Mystery: Why  Are Type 1 Cases Surging?  An excellent question for which the author, Maryn McKenna, offers up a very weak answer.   “Recently the search for a cause behind the rise of type 1 diabetes has taken an unexpected turn. Some investigators are reconsidering the role of an old adversary: being overweight or obese,” McKenna writes.  The theory is that an overweight person produces extra insulin, which causes beta cell stress.  McKenna says this idea  is called the accelerator or overload hypothesis.  She quotes Rebecca Lipton, an emeritus professor at the University of Chicago who says that “if you have a kid who is chubby, that extra adiposity is going to challenge the pancreatic beta cells.  In a child who has already started the autoimmune process, those beta cells are just going to fail more quickly, because they are being forced to put out more insulin than in a thin child.”

And that’s pretty much where McKenna’s argument ends (and I actually found her paragraph unclear overall…).  She doesn’t offer any evidence of studies that show children with a high BMI are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes.  Furthermore, nowhere in her article does she mention vitamin D, or the lack thereof, as a possible cause for the rise in type 1 diabetes incidence.*  And there is very good reason to bring up vitamin D.   A study of Finnish babies published in 2001 in the Lancet suggested, “Dietary vitamin D supplementation is associated with reduced risk of type 1 diabetes. Ensuring adequate vitamin D supplementation for infants could help to reverse the increasing trend in the incidence of type 1 diabetes.”   A very recent study indicates an association between lower maternal serum concentrations of vitamin D during pregnancy and increased risk of type 1 diabetes development in childhood.  And currently, a Canadian pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Shanye Tacback is seeking $10 million in research funding in order to give babies at high risk of type 1 diabetes as much as 2,000 IU a day of vitamin D as a means of preventing type 1 diabetes. 

Whether or not it’s been proven, I believe the vitamin D supplement I take does help my beta cells.  Maybe it’s just wishful thinking.  But maybe not.  In my next unscientific experiment I plan to start taking an omega 3 supplement. 

*Dan Hurley’s book Diabetes Rising has a good discussion of five leading hypotheses for the rise in type 1 diabetes: accelerator hypothesis, sunshine hypothesis, hygiene hypothesis, cow’s milk hypothesis and POP (persistent organic pollutants) hypothesis.



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11 years ago

Its also interesting to note that people who have gastric bypass surgery usually experience some level of recovery from Type 2 diabetes even before they have lost much weight.  So there must be other factors in play besides extra cells to nourish.

And now I can think about saving my islet cells as I worship the sun! 

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