by Mary Catherine Heger; St. Joseph’s Academy (St. Louis, MO)

When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in September 2006 at the age of ten, I was completely shocked. My life had entirely changed in a matter of minutes. I now had to check my blood sugar at least 8 times a day and give doses of insulin through a shot whenever I ate. Upon learning of my diabetes, I had to mange my blood sugar in order to lower my chances of developing diabetes-related complications such as kidney disease and high blood pressure.

This individual is decreasing her likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes by taking a vitamin D supplement. Credit: Mary Catherine Heger.

Recent studies performed by several universities and medical institutions across the globe such as St. Mary’s Hospital for Women and Children in the United Kingdom and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals in the United Kingdom, and Oslo University Hospital in Norway have led scientists and medical professionals to conclude that higher doses of vitamin D in one’s diet decreases one’s likelihood of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. In 2013, the data from Harvard University’s experiment further confirmed the results found by these past studies.

Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the pancreas stops producing insulin. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) reports that over three million Americans have type 1 diabetes. More than 30,000 people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes each year, according to JDRF. Type 1 diabetics results from one’s pancreas completely stopping producing insulin, whereas type 2 diabetes comes from one’s pancreas not making enough insulin or from one’s pancreas no longer being able to respond to the insulin being created. Also, type 2 diabetes usually is a consequence of poor health decisions; however, the cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 69,071 individuals died from type 1 and type 2 diabetes in 2010.

The Vitamin D Council defines vitamin D as a fat-soluble vitamin that one can obtain from sunlight, vitamin D supplements, or foods such as fish. The human body is able to produce and to receive vitamin D when it absorbs sunlight, breaks down a vitamin D supplement, or digests vitamin D-rich foods. The Vitamin D Council reports that vitamin D assists people in maintaining overall good health and in forming strong bones.

According to the Harvard School of Public Medicine, an estimated one billion individuals worldwide are vitamin D deficient. Several experiments have found that even though vitamin D is in several drinks and foods and is absorbed from sunlight, individuals are not receiving enough vitamin D through these methods. Thus, numerous researchers believe that individuals need to take a vitamin D supplement to obtain the recommended dose of vitamin D. Many scientists believe that a leading factor in the rise of individuals who are vitamin D deficient is a worldwide decrease in the amount of sun exposure that people receive, thus explaining why there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people who are developing type 1 diabetes each year. Several studies have shown that individuals who live in countries that are closer to the Equator have lower rates of type 1 diabetes because these persons have greater exposure to vitamin D through sunlight than individuals who do not live by the Equator. According to the Vitamin D Council, the recommended dose of vitamin D is 50 nanograms per deciliter.

The American Diabetes Association reports that many studies have found that persons who have low levels of vitamin D have high glucose and insulin levels, which are symptoms of diabetes.

Stephanie Patton, a type 1 diabetic college student, stated, “I have lived in Missouri, a state, which is relatively far from the Equator, my entire life, so I think that my lack of exposure to the sun and the fact that I did not take a vitamin D supplement as a child may have caused me to develop type 1 diabetes.”

Lynne Heger, my mother, said, “I began giving my children vitamin D supplements two years ago after I read an article in a pediatric medical magazine about how vitamin D reduces one’s likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes. I began administering vitamin D to my children in order to lower the chances of my two non-diabetic children developing the disease. Also, I have observed that when Mary Catherine takes this supplement, her blood sugar control greatly improves.”

            Christos Zipitis, M.D., of St. Mary’s Hospital for Women and Children and Anthony K. Akobeng, M.D., of the Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals performed a in study in which 1,429 children were given 50 nanograms of  a vitamin D supplement, while 5,026 participants  did not consume any vitamin D supplement. The data, published in 2008, revealed that the children who received a vitamin D supplement were 29% less likely to develop type 1 diabetes than the participants who did not take a vitamin D supplement.

Furthermore, in a 2012 study by Nicolai Andre Blix-Lund, Benedicte Jørgenrud, and Kjersti Skjold Rønningen at Oslo University Hospital in Norway, the vitamin D levels of pregnant women and their children’s likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes were measured. The researchers found that by age 15, the children whose mothers possessed the lowest vitamin D levels had over double the chance of becoming diagnosed with type 1 diabetes than the children whose mothers held the highest levels of vitamin D.

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In a 2013 study carried out by the Harvard School of Public Health, scientists observed the blood samples of 310 individuals who were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes between 1997 and 2009. Then, they compared these samples with the blood samples of 613 persons who were not diabetic. The team discovered that white, non-Hispanic, healthy adolescents with higher serum levels higher than 30 nanograms per deciliter of vitamin D had around half the risk of becoming diagnosed with type 1 diabetes than individuals whose lowest levels of vitamin D were less than 30 nanograms per deciliter.

            “I hope that further research can be performed on vitamin D so that no more individuals have to experience the pain and difficulty that I endure as a type 1 diabetic,” said Patton.

Mary Catherine Heger

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