Development of type 2 diabetes may be related to vitamin A deficiency

Fri, 16 Jan 2015
The development of type 2 diabetes may be accelerated by a vitamin A deficiency, according to new research.

The study, conducted at the Weill Cornell Medical College and published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry, suggests that vitamin A increases the production of beta cells in the pancreas, which in turn produce the hormone insulin. Not having enough vitamin A, therefore, slows the body's natural production of insulin. At advanced stages, type 2 diabetes causes a loss of beta cells.

When the researchers removed vitamin A from the diet of a group of mice, they observed significant beta cell losses, and, as a result, less insulin production and increases in blood sugar levels. The number of beta cells returned to normal - along with insulin production and blood glucose levels - when vitamin A was reintroduced to the diet.

Previous research has indicated vitamin A is key to insulin production during fetal development, but this is the first study to suggest that this importance continues into adulthood.

The findings raise several questions: is vitamin A deficiency related to the development of type 2 diabetes? Could a synthetic analogue of vitamin A reverse the effects of type 2 diabetes?

Dr. Steven Trasino, first author of the study, said: "From a therapeutic point of view, our research is a very important contribution because there are no drugs available to do this."

Dr. Lorraine Gudas, senior author and chairman of the Department of Pharmacology and the Revlon Pharmaceutical Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology and Weill Cornell, explained:

"While there are thousands of publications on diabetes, there hasn't been much research on the effects of removing vitamin A from the diets of animals, acting as a model for human disease.

"How the removal of vitamin A causes the death of the beta cells that make insulin in the pancreas is an important question we want to answer. These beta cells in the pancreas are exquisitely sensitive to the dietary removal of vitamin A. No one has found that before."
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