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Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2012 Feb;38(1):179-206. doi: 10.1016/j.rdc.2012.03.015. Epub 2012 Apr 12.

Vitamin D and diabetes.

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  • 1Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Endocrinology (LEGENDO), Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, UZ Gasthuisberg, Leuven, Belgium.


There is no doubt that vitamin D deficiency is the cause of several metabolic bone diseases, but vitamin D status is also linked to many major human diseases including immune disorders. Mounting data strengthen the link between vitamin D and diabetes, in particular T1D and T2D. Despite some inconsistencies between studies that associate serum 25(OH)D levels with the risk of developing T1D or T2D, there seems to be an overall trend for an inverse correlation between levels of 25(OH)D and both disorders. There is also compelling evidence that 1,25(OH)2D regulates b-cell function by different mechanisms, such as influencing insulin secretion by regulating intracellular levels of Ca2+, increasing β-cell resistance to apoptosis, and perhaps also increasing β-cell replication. The capacity of vitamin D, more specifically 1,25(OH)2D, to modulate immune responses is of particular interest for both the therapy and prevention of diabetes. In the case of T1D, vitamin D supplementation in prediabetic individuals could help prevent or reduce the initiation of autoimmune processes possibly by regulating thymic selection of the T-cell repertoire, decreasing the numbers of autoreactive T cells, and inducing Treg cells. Although immune modulation is generally discussed for the treatment of T1D, it is also relevant for T2D. Indeed, recent studies have shown that T2D patients have increased systemic inflammation and that this state can induce β-cell dysfunction and death. Supplementation trials with regular vitamin D for the protection against the development of T1D and T2D have generated some contradictory data, but many weaknesses can be identified in these trials as most were underpowered or open-labeled. However, the overwhelming strength of preclinical data and of the observational studies make vitamin D or its analogues strong candidates for the prevention or treatment of diabetes or its complications. However, proof of causality needs well-designed clinical trials and if positive, adequate dosing, regimen, and compound studies are needed to define the contribution of vitamin D status and therapy in the global diabetes problem. There are many confounding factors that need to be taken into consideration when translating successful vitamin D therapies in animal models into humans, for example, gender, age, lifestyle, and genetic background. To come to solid conclusions on the potential of vitamin D or its analogues in the prevention of or therapy for all forms of diabetes, it is clear that large prospective trials with carefully selected populations and end points will be needed, but should also receive high priority.

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