Diabetes, Vitamin D Deficiency And Depression

by Cindy

Vitamin D Deficiency

It is currently estimated that 1 billion people worldwide could have vitamin D deficiency.  In recent years there has been a lot of buzz surrounding vitamin D deficiency.  Up until recently, this important nutrient was thought to only be linked to maintaining proper bone health. However, emerging data suggests that vitamin D plays a role in numerous other processes within the body such as osteoporosis, fatigue, chronic pain and cancer.  Of particular interest is that studies support that vitamin D deficiency is also linked to diabetes and depression.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is an important fat soluble vitamin.  This nutrient can be synthesized by the body or ingested from foods and supplements.  Vitamin D is affectionately known as the “sunshine vitamin” because it is produced by the body in large amounts when people are exposed to natural ultraviolet light.

Its best known job is in the regulation of bone turnover by keeping calcium and phosphorus levels in perfect balance to prevent osteoporosis.  Patients may also be familiar with vitamin D because it has been known for years that too little vitamin D can cause rickets in children.

Vitamin D Deficiency and Diabetes

In recent studies, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to diabetes mellitus.  Research has shown that lack of vitamin D influences the creation of insulin and leaves patients susceptible to elevated blood glucose levels.  

Vitamin D Deficiency and Type 1 Diabetes

It is very well documented that low vitamin D levels and type 1 diabetes show a correlation.  It is theorized that vitamin D helps regulate the immune system and that when levels are low, it creates an environment where the immune system can attack the insulin-producing pancreatic cells resulting in their destruction and the onset of type 1 diabetes.

Vitamin D Deficiency and Type 2 Diabetes

The link between vitamin D deficiency and type 2 diabetes seems less clear.  Laboratory studies have demonstrated that vitamin D plays a role in both the production and release of insulin in both humans and animals.  It is suggested that low vitamin D levels may create an environment that allows for elevated blood sugar levels due to the effect of vitamin D on insulin producing cells.  This effect is supported by evidence of hyperglycemia in patients with low vitamin D levels.  Based on this information, scientists have hypothesized that vitamin D deficiency may contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.  To further support the point that vitamin D influence blood sugar levels, numerous studies have also shown that high glucose can be improved simply through replacement of vitamin D.  This is exciting news for patients with diabetes and prediabetes!

The link between diabetes and vitamin D deficiency is still being studied but it seems that there are special areas within the insulin-producing pancreas that are targeted and influenced by vitamin D.  It is theorized that low vitamin D levels leads to inadequate stimulation of these areas of the pancreas, decreased insulin production, delayed release of insulin and high sugar levels. As data emerges it seems reasonable that, in the future, routine screening for low vitamin D levels would be recommended for all patients due to its correlation with many chronic health conditions. This inexpensive testing and low cost treatment could potentially save billions in health service costs if simple vitamin D supplementation can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in the general population.

Vitamin D Deficiency and Depression

It is a known fact that patients with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, are at a higher risk for developing depressed mood.  With emerging data suggesting that vitamin D plays a role in the development of many chronic diseases, like diabetes, it is not surprising that lack of this important vitamin is also linked to depression.

The exact association between vitamin D deficiency and depression is not clear.  It is possible that patients who are at risk for depression live a sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary intake which puts them at risk for low vitamin D levels.  Research has correlated low vitamin D levels with mental disorders such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), depression and schizophrenia.  Numerous studies have been done but the exact relationship between vitamin D deficiency and depression is still unclear.

As research continues, scientists are demonstrating that vitamin D supplementation can reduce the risk of depression in certain populations.  What they cannot agree on, is how much vitamin D is enough.   At this time it is recommended that people get the recommended daily allowance of 400 IU of vitamin D every day.  Certain patients who are at a higher risk for this condition, may be advised to take a larger amount to prevent vitamin D deficiency and perhaps even depression.

Vitamin D FAQs

Who is at Risk for Vitamin D Deficiency?

Risk factors for vitamin D deficiency include:

  • Infrequent sun exposure:  Patients who are institutionalized, elderly or suffer mental disorders are at risk for vitamin D deficiency because they spend too little time outside.
  • Poor Absorption: Patients who have gastrointestinal conditions that limit the absorption of vitamin D are at risk for this condition
  • Breastfed Infants:  Infants who are exclusively breastfed must be given vitamin D supplements to prevent low levels of this vitamin.  Too little vitamin D can result in rickets, a disorder of bone production that manifests with bowed legs.
  • Medications:  Certain medications are known to cause vitamin D deficiency
  • Location:  Patients who live far from the equator are at higher risk for low vitamin D levels.

What are the Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency?

Symptoms of low vitamin D are variable and can range from no symptoms at all to some of the following:

  • Rickets
  • Osteopenia/Osteoporosis
  • Chronic Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Muscle Aches
  • Hair Loss
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • PMS (Prementrual Syndrome)

How is Vitamin D Deficiency Diagnosed?

Your doctor can order a simple blood test to screen you for vitamin D deficiency.  Levels that are less than 20 ng/ml are diagnostic for vitamin D deficiency. 

How is Vitamin D Deficiency Treated?

Your doctor may advise you to take an oral supplement that contains vitamin D.  The dose of these supplements will vary based on the results of your blood work. If you are looking to boost your vitamin D without taking supplements, you can spend some extra time out in the sunshine to increase your body’s natural production of this substance.  Also, foods that are rich in vitamin D include certain types of fish, fortified milks and cereals and swiss cheese.

There is still much to be learned about the affect that vitamin D has on the body but early research indicates that this substance is much more important than we once thought.  The good news is that increasing vitamin D levels is an easy and inexpensive way to improve your bone health and to possible prevent diabetes, depression and more!

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