Researchers out of Germany have found that vitamin D deficiency is associated with high presence of autoantibodies in children with pre-type 1 diabetes. However, in this same study, researchers found that vitamin D deficiency does not increase risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s own beta-cells in the pancreas preventing them from producing insulin. Insulin is necessary for converting glucose from food into the energy that your body needs.
Pre-type 1 diabetes describes a condition just before the onset of type 1 diabetes. In pre-type 1 diabetes, multiple islet autoantibodies begin to develop. Islet autoantibodies are markers of damage to the pancreas by the immune system. Children with islet autoantibodies can develop type 1 diabetes in a few months or it may take up to 20 years after autoantibodies appear.
Vitamin D is associated with autoimmune disease and type 1 diabetes. Research shows that low vitamin D intake during pregnancy increases risk of type 1 diabetes in offspring, and low intake of vitamin D during early childhood also increases risk.
Because of this known link, researchers from the Institute of Diabetes Research in Germany wondered if vitamin D levels in children with pre-type 1 diabetes may be related to progression to type 1 diabetes.
The researchers measured and compared the vitamin D levels in 108 children who developed islet autoantibodies in the last 2 years, 244 children with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes, and 406 children with a family history of type 1 diabetes but no signs of islet autoantibodies. The researchers then followed the 108 children with islet autoantibodies for a median of 5.8 years to track type 1 diabetes diagnoses.
The researchers found that vitamin D deficiency was more common in children with islet autoantibodies compared to children without islet autoantibodies.
However, when the researchers followed those with pre-type 1 diabetes for the median of 5.8 years, it didn’t matter if you were sufficient or deficient in vitamin D at baseline, people from both groups were equally likely to develop type 1 diabetes.
“Vitamin D levels were lower in children with multiple islet autoantibodies and in children with type 1 diabetes than in autoantibody-negative children,” the researchers stated. “However, vitamin D deficiency was not associated with faster progression to type 1 diabetes in children with multiple islet autoantibodies.”