An unexpected risk has recently been found for youths with type 1 diabetes. Joslin Diabetes Center researchers have found that the majority of juvenile diabetics have insufficient levels of vitamin D, a condition that often leads to bone frailty and fractures later in life. Research has also linked vitamin D to skin cancer.
128 type 1 diabetic “youths,” between the ages of 1.5 and 17.5 years, participated in the study. It was found that 61% of the participants had “insufficient” vitamin D levels, 15% had extremely low, or “deficient” levels, and only 24% had “adequate” levels of vitamin D. When considering only the adolescents, who presumably would have had more time to develop vitamin D deficiency, 85% demonstrated insufficient levels. These troubling results were not expected by the researchers. “We didn’t expect to find that only 24 percent of the study population would have adequate levels,” says researcher Dr. Lori Laffel.
The researchers came up with several explanations for why vitamin D deficiency is so common in juvenile diabetics, mostly related to lifestyle differences of type 1 diabetics. Some major factors mentioned included decreased exposure to sunlight, which is a major source of vitamin D, and decreased milk intake. It´s stated that juvenile diabetics drink less milk due to a common substitution of sugar-free beverages into their daily diets.
The risks posed for young diabetics with low vitamin D levels can be well supported by past research. For starters, it has been shown that diabetes itself can have the effect of reducing bone density and increasing the possibility of fractures in adult (especially elderly) diabetics. While these studies were not performed on diabetic youths, it demonstrate a mechanism by which diabetes effects bone development, and puts those represented by the current study population at increased risk. “In addition to inadequate levels of vitamin D, adolescent patients with type 1 diabetes potentially possess multiple risk factors for increased skeletal fragility,” state the researchers.
Past research has also shown that vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of bone deformation in infants and young children, indicating a more immediate threat as well. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to sun exposure, or lack thereof, in localities with less sunlight (such as the norther United States), and future research will be aimed at seeing if these locations have higher diabetes incidence as well due to the lack of sunlight.
The conclusions and impact of this study are pretty clear. Diabetic youths should be tested and treated for vitamin D deficiency. For those with inadequate levels of vitamin D, the addition of certain foods and supplements high in vitamin D to the child’s diet will be very important. More specifically, researcher Dr. Britta Svoren stresses that “we need to pay particular attention to those with diabetes as they appear to be at an even higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. For children who are not drinking sufficient amounts of vitamin D fortified milk, we are encouraging them to take a vitamin D supplement of 400 IU daily. Many cereals are fortified with vitamin D as well.”
Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Laffel, Lori. Svoren, Britta. Jastive, Kira. Journal of Pediatrics news release. December 2008.