Vitamin D is for Diabetes…and Heart Disease…and Dementia

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Vitamin D and Diabetes - Diabetic Herbivore blogDid you know almost every cell of our body has a Vitamin D receptor? This vitamin plays a role in the functioning of just about every system. Several studies have been published in the last few years exploring the links between Vitamin D and diabetes, heart disease, and dementia, all of which are sometimes related to each other, as well.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D and Diabetes - Diabetic Herbivore blogVitamin D acts as a hormone and is used by almost every type of cell in your body. It plays a part in the regulation of over 200 genes. Consequently, it has a role in a wide range of bodily processes. For instance, it keeps abnormal cells from multiplying and causing breast and colon cancers, it regulates kidney blood pressure, and it helps regulate blood sugar levels in the pancreas.

Vitamin D and Diabetes - Diabetic Herbivore blogVitamin D is produced by your body when you’re exposed to direct sunlight or a high-quality tanning bed.

Many people don’t get enough sunshine in their daily lives. Others have more difficulty synthesizing Vitamin D from sunshine, such as those with dark skin complexions, those who are overweight, older, live farther from the equator, and those who stay covered up in the sun.

If you fall into any of these categories, chances are you will need to supplement your vitamin D levels through diet and pills. Many others will, as well. One estimate I read said that anywhere from 40 to 75% of people may have a Vitamin D deficiency!

How Does Vitamin D Affect Diabetes?

Vitamin D and Diabetes - Diabetic Herbivore blogSome researchers have discovered that people with the lowest Vitamin D levels have the highest risk of developing type 2 diabetes at some point.

In fact, some studies have found low levels of vitamin D seem to be a better predictor for the development of diabetes than weight. This means that people with low Vitamin D are more likely to become diabetic, no matter how much they weigh.

It’s also been found that Vitamin D levels are often quite low in the newly diagnosed.

A vitamin D deficiency actually contributes to higher levels of insulin resistance, and research has shown that increasing Vitamin D levels can increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin (resistance goes down).

One group of researchers found that people with type 1 diabetes who sufficiently supplement their Vitamin D levels experienced better blood glucose levels, needed less insulin, and experienced fewer hypoglycemic episodes.

On top of this, Vitamin D helps to regulate calcium, which in turn is vital for pancreatic beta cell function and helps control the production and release of insulin.

For those who are beginning to show signs of insulin resistance, but who haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes (prediabetic), Vitamin D supplementation could help delay or prevent the onset of the disease.

A recent study published in MedScape has shown that the form of Vitamin D makes a difference, too. If you’re trying to correct a Vitamin D deficiency, you’re better off getting supplements of Vitamin D3 rather than D2, because it is significantly more effective at resolving that deficiency.

D3 comes from animal sources, while D2 comes from plant sources, so if you’re a strict vegan, you may need to radically increase your intake of D2 in order to see the same gains you would get from D3.

How Does Vitamin D Deficiency Contribute to Heart Disease?

Vitamin D and Diabetes - Diabetic Herbivore blogIf you have diabetes, then you probably already know that your risk of developing heart disease is higher than for those without diabetes. Low vitamin D levels may exacerbate this risk.

Researchers found that people who experienced sudden cardiac arrest were more likely to die within six months of their cardiac event if they also had low Vitamin D levels.

Coronary artery disease is also seen much more among those who have low Vitamin D levels. The same study showed that the risk for heart disease increased the lower the Vitamin D levels were.

What’s the Link Between Vitamin D and Dementia?

Vitamin D and Diabetes - Diabetic Herbivore blogThere are several ways that diabetes contributes to dementia:

  • High blood sugar causes inflammation, which causes plaque in the brain. Plaque leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Insulin resistance makes it harder for the blood to flow properly, so the brain doesn’t get sufficient oxygen and nutrients.
  • Brain cells need glucose to function and insulin resistance means the cells can’t use the glucose properly.
  • Diabetes leads to a build-up of toxic proteins in the brain, which may impair the way the creation of new connections between brain cells, further degrading cognitive function.

Alzheimer’s has even been called diabetes type 3 by many scientists who have been discovering all the ways that high blood sugars damage the brain.

Vitamin D has been shown to have a connection with the development of dementia. Apparently, those who are mildly deficient in this vitamin have a 53% higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia, and that risk jumps to 125% in those who are severely deficient.

One of the ways that Vitamin D helps to lower the incidence of Alzheimer’s is that it protects against the development of plaque in the brain. Scientists are still researching how Vitamin D influences the development of dementia and whether supplementation can prevent memory loss and cognitive function.

How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?

Vitamin D and Diabetes - Diabetic Herbivore blogOptimal Vitamin D levels are between 30 and 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). To maintain this level, most adults need 1,000 to 2,000 international units (IU) per day.

How Can I Increase My Vitamin D?

You can ask your doctor for a blood test that will measure your Vitamin D levels. This will give you a good starting point.

Vitamin D and Diabetes - Diabetic Herbivore blogSupplements: If you’re very low, your doctor can prescribe high doses of Vitamin D (20,000-50,000 per week for several weeks) to get your levels back up into the acceptable range. Once your levels are back to normal, regular supplementation with much smaller doses of Vitamin D will help keep you where you want to be.

Vitamin D and Diabetes - Diabetic Herbivore blogDiet: You can boost your levels by eating a Vitamin D-rich diet. This includes foods fortified with Vitamin D (like milk, bread, and yogurt), as well as fatty fish (such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon). Eggs are also a good source of Vitamin D.

Vitamin D and Diabetes - Diabetic Herbivore blogSunshine: Unfortunately, this vitamin is not found in a wide range of foods, and very few vegetarian or vegan sources of food, so you’ll also want to make sure to spend some time outside, if possible. Generally, 10 minutes a day in full sunshine (without sunscreen) should give you enough Vitamin D, if you’re not severely deficient. Our bodies are designed to create Vitamin D, but they need sunlight to engage in that production process. This is the most efficient way to get Vitamin D, you just have to make sure not to overdo it and get sunburned.

Avoid Vitamin D Intoxication

Be careful, however, not to get too much Vitamin D. There’s a condition known as Vitamin D intoxication that can happen from overdosing on this hormone precursor. Most vitamins are water soluble, so the body flushes excess amounts of them. However, Vitamin D is fat soluble, and so excess amounts get stored in the fatty tissue and the liver instead, and can build up to dangerous levels.

Be sure to get tested regularly and work with your doctor to determine the best plan for your body to achieve optimal Vitamin D levels so you can get all the health benefits without the downsides.

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© Rebecca Dugas 2017 All Rights Reserved

Written by Rebecca Dugas

I am the original Diabetic Herbivore. I created this site to help others who live with diabetes and have chosen a plant-based diet to find recipes, resources, education, and support. The information here will also be helpful to anyone who chooses to eat more low carb and/or more vegetables. I believe we all should be able to feel full and satisfied no matter what food choices we make, or for whatever reason we make them.


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