Vitamin D may have protective properties for the pancreas’s beta cells, a new research study suggests.
A team from the Salk Institute in San Diego, California, say their breakthrough discovery involves vitamin D, otherwise known as the sunshine vitami, and pancreatic beta cells.
In a trial involving mice, researchers from the Salk Institute in San Diego, California found vitamin D repaired and protected the damaged beta cells within the pancreas. It is the beta cells which produce insulin.
The findings could have potential for improving type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, particularly if the condition has been uncontrolled for many years, the number of working beta cells can become reduced, leading to people becoming reliant on insulin injections.
Senior author Ronald Evans, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and holder of Salk’s March of Dimes Chair in Molecular and Developmental Biology, said: “We know that diabetes is a disease caused by inflammation.
“In this study, we identified the vitamin D receptor as an important modulator of both inflammation and beta cell survival.”
During the research, a compound called iBRD9 was identified which seemed to enhance how the vitamin D worked with the beta cells. They tested their findings in a mouse model of diabetes and showed that insulin levels returned to normal.
First author Zong Wei, a research associate in Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, said: “This study started out by looking at the role of vitamin D in beta cells. Epidemiological studies in patients have suggested a correlation between high vitamin D concentrations in the blood and a lower risk of diabetes, but the underlying mechanism was not well understood.
“It’s been hard to protect beta cells with the vitamin alone. We now have some ideas about how we might be able to take advantage of this connection.”
The investigators say that, although the new compound did not appear to cause any side effects in the mice, further testing is needed before clinical trials can begin.
The findings show that vitamin D may play a useful part in preventing damage to beta cells. Another way to protect the beta cells from damage is to follow a healthy lifestyle that is relatively low in carbohydrate and based around real foods.
For information on a healthy lifestyle for diabetes, join’s Low Carb Program.
The study is published in the Cell journal.

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