New findings by researchers at the Moores Cancer Center at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine show a strong connection between sun exposure and vitamin D on the risk of type 1 diabetes in children. This association comes on the heels of similar research findings by this same group regarding vitamin D levels and several major cancers.
Vitamin D is, once again, a major news item on the health front. This is the first study to show that higher serum levels of vitamin D are associated with reduced incidence rates of type 1 diabetes worldwide.
In this new study, the researchers found that populations living at or near the equator, where there is abundant sunshine (and ultraviolet B irradiance) have low incidence rates of type 1 diabetes. Conversely, populations at higher latitudes, where available sunlight is scarcer, have higher incidence rates. These findings add new support to the concept of a role of vitamin D in reducing risk of this disease.
Ultraviolet B (UVB) exposure triggers photosynthesis of vitamin D3 in the skin. This form of vitamin D also is available through diet and supplements. The study is published June 5 in the online version of the scientific journal Diabetologia.
Type 1 diabetes is the second most common chronic disease in children, second only to asthma. Every day, 1.5 million Americans deal with type 1 diabetes and its complications. About 15,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, where this disease is the main cause of blindness in young and middle-aged adults and is among the top reasons for kidney failure and transplants in youth and midlife.
“This research suggests that childhood type 1 diabetes may be preventable with a modest intake of vitamin D3 (1000 IU/day) for children, ideally with 5 to 10 minutes of sunlight around noontime, when good weather allows,” said the lead author. “Infants less than a year old should not be given more than 400 IU per day without consulting a doctor. Hats and dark glasses are a good idea to wear when in the sun at any age, and can be used if the child will tolerate them.”
In the paper the researchers call for public health action to address widespread vitamin D inadequacy in U.S. children.
“This study presents strong epidemiological evidence to suggest that we may be able to prevent new cases of type 1 diabetes,” said Dr. Garland, lead author. “By preventing this disease, we would prevent its many devastating consequences.”