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Calcium and Vitamin D For Diabetes

Source: Remedies, July 2006

An estimated 20 million Americans have diabetes, and at least 5 million more have this disease but don’t know it. In 2002, the price tag of this growing epidemic was estimated at $132 billion in direct and indirect costs. In addition:

  • About 20 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 60 have diabetes.
  • Approximately one in every 400 to 500 children and adolescents has Type 1 diabetes.
  • The incidence of Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset diabetes) in children has shop up dramatically in the last decade.

While diet, exercise, weight loss, and medications are prescribed for people with diabetes, more Americans are turning to nutritional support for additional help.

Type 1 and 2

Type 1 diabetes begins as an autoimmune disorder in which the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are destroyed by the body’s immune system explains Margherita T. Cantorna, PhD, of Penn State University. These pancreatic cells are the only cells in the body that produce insulin (which regulates blood sugar), so people with this form of diabetes must have insulin delivered by pump or injection. Type 1 diabetes usually strikes children and young adults, but disease onset can occur at any age. Risk factors for this disease may be genetic, autoimmune, or environmental.

Most people with Type 2 diabetes are insulin resistant, meaning that the body produces insulin, but cannot metabolize it efficiently. Type 2 diabetics are often diagnosed with metabolic syndrome – also called Syndrome X – which means they have three or more of the following five markers:

  • glucose intolerance
  • obesity
  • high blood pressure
  • elevated levels of cholesterol
  • elevated levels of triglycerides.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with older age, a family history of diabetes, impaired glucose metabolism, and obesity. Between 80 and 90 percent of people with this disease are obese, or 20 percent or more above their recommended weight.

Support For Type 1

Studies show that vitamin D levels are low in those with autoimmune diseases – Type 1 diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and others – and vitamin D supplements have helped improve these conditions. An important role of D is its ability to decrease the number and function of T-cells, which can contribute to autoimmune diseases when they attack the body’s healthy tissues as though they were foreign invaders.

Studies confirm that vitamin D supplementation is associated with a reduced risk of Type 1 diabetes. Researchers also find that adequate vitamin D supplementation in infants may help reduce the incidence of this form of diabetes.

Nutrients For Type 2

Studies indicate that altered vitamin D and calcium balance may also play a role in the development of Type 2 diabetes. According to a research team at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, intake of calcium and vitamin D from supplements, rather than from diet, was significantly associated with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. Researchers found a combined daily intake of more than 1,200 mg calcium and 800 IU vitamin D was associated with a 33 percent decrease in Type 2 diabetes risk, compared to an intake of less than 600 mg calcium and 400 IU vitamin D.

Study authors believe this to be the first prospective investigation to examine the combined effects of both nutrients in diabetes risk. If such results can be confirmed by further research they will have important public health implications, since these two supplements may be used easily and inexpensively to prevent Type 2 diabetes.

As the diabetic epidemic explodes, it is important for all of us to have our blood sugar tested and to follow the advice of a healthcare provider. A fasting glucose reading up to 100 mg/dl is considered normal. Levels over 100 mg/dl are risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, and a doctor may diagnose diabetes when blood sugar levels exceed 126 mg/dl. Along with diet, exercise, and weight reduction, many supplements are joining the fight against the disease.

“The impact of patient preferences on the cost-effectiveness of intensive glucose control in older patients with new-onset diabetes” by E. Huang et al., Diabetes Care, 2006
“Incidence of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in adults aged 30-49 years” by G. Bruno et al., Diabetes Care, 2005
“A randomized controlled trial of the effect of real-time telemedicine support on glycemic control in young adults with type 1 diabetes” by A. Farmer et al., Diabetes Care, 2005
“A systematic review of drug therapy to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes” by R. Padwal et al., Diabetes Care, 2005
“Vitamin D and autoimmunity” by M. Cantoma, Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, 2000
“Vitamin D and calcium intake in relation to type 2 diabetes in women” by G. Anatassios et al., Diabetes Care, 2006