Vitamin D for Infants Protects Against Diabetes
While the cause of type I diabetes (insulin-dependent diabetes) remains unknown, a new study in Lancet indicates that this condition may be prevented by giving infants supplemental vitamin D.1
Researchers questioned the parents of over 10,000 Finnish children about the intake of vitamin D supplements during the child’s first year of life. The infants were divided into three groups, according to their daily intake of supplemental vitamin D (vitamin D from the diet was not counted): less than 2,000 IU, approximately 2,000 IU (the recommended amount at the time), or more than 2,000 IU.
Thirty years later, participants were surveyed to determine whether they had developed type I diabetes. The results of the study showed that infants who were given 2,000 IU or more of supplemental vitamin D per day had an 80% lower risk of developing type I diabetes, compared with infants who were given less than that amount. This report supports the findings of an earlier study in which children newly diagnosed with type I diabetes had lower blood levels of vitamin D, when compared with nondiabetic children.2
The way in which vitamin D prevents type I diabetes is unknown, although it is believed to act on the immune system. Insulin-dependent diabetes is thought by some researchers to be an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys specific cells in the pancreas that are responsible for the production of insulin. Vitamin D may suppress the immune system in a way that spares the pancreas from destruction. However, this has not been conclusively proven.
It should be noted that since the 1960s when this study was initiated, the recommended intake of vitamin D by infants living in Finland has been reduced from 2,000 IU per day to 400 IU per day, as the higher intakes have been found to cause toxic effects in some infants. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D in the United States is 300 IU per day for infants up to three months of age, and 400 IU per day for children older than three months. It is not clear how much vitamin D would be needed to prevent type I diabetes in American children. In northern Finland, where this study was conducted, there are only two hours of sunlight per day in December, so the production of vitamin D in the skin would be markedly reduced during part of each year. In the United States, where there is more sun, the vitamin D status of infants would likely be better than in northern Finland. Nevertheless, it is possible that vitamin D intakes greater than the RDA are needed to reduce the risk of type I diabetes. Additional research is needed to answer that question.
1. Hypponen E, Laara E, Reunanen A, et al. Intake of vitamin D and risk of type I diabetes: a birth-cohort study. Lancet 2001;358:1500–3.
2. Baumgartl HJ, Strandl E, Schmidt-Gayk H, et al. Changes of vitamin D3 serum concentrations at the onset of immune-mediated type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus. Diabetes Res 1991;16:145–8.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of Garlic and Cholesterol: Everything You Need to Know (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice in Westport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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