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Vitamin D & Autoimmune Diseases

Vitamin D & Autoimmune Diseases

In the UK during the winter months, the angle of the sun, shorter days and lack of bare skin exposure to the sun makes it very difficult for the skin to produce any vitamin D at all.  General recommendations are now that people in the UK should be topping up their vitamin D with a maintenance dose supplement from October to April.

Vitamin D has become a hot topic of research in recent years, with a vast number of scientific studies now attesting to its importance for many different aspects of health from strong bones to immune, mood, respiratory and cognitive benefits and more.

Now a new study has found that getting enough vitamin D in early life may help to protect against islet autoimmunity (a precursor to type 1 diabetes) in children who are genetically at higher risk of developing the disease.

Published recently in Diabetes, this latest study is part of The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young (TEDDY) study – a large multinational study which began in 2004, involving 8,676 children with genetically elevated type 1 diabetes risk and which aims to identify potential triggers and protective factors for the autoimmune disease.  A team of researchers from Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz led by Dr Jill Norris examined the association between blood vitamin D levels and islet autoimmunity in the TEDDY children.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic autoimmune disease, now the most common metabolic disorder in children under the age of 10, and its prevalence is increasing every year worldwide.  Risks of developing the disease seem to be greater further north from the equator, where it is difficult to get enough vitamin D from sunlight exposure alone.

Dr Norris commented, “For several years there has been controversy about whether vitamin D lowers the risk of developing islet autoimmunity and type 1 diabetes.

For this latest study, all TEDDY children underwent blood testing every 3 – 6 months from infancy to evaluate vitamin D levels and the presence of islet autoimmunity.  The researchers compared 376 children who developed islet autoimmunity with 1041 children who did not.  Results showed that in children who were genetically at higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes, vitamin D levels were lower in infancy and childhood in those who developed islet autoimmunity, compared to those that did not.

The researchers concluded that higher childhood vitamin D levels are significantly associated with a decreased risk of islet autoimmunity.

Dr Norris commented on the results,

“Since this association does not prove cause-and-effect, we look to future prospective studies to confirm whether a vitamin D intervention can help prevent type 1 diabetes.” 

Vitamin D supplementation is now recommended across the board to help maintain optimal levels between October – April, and this is important at every age.  Click on the links below for more information on supplementing with vitamin D during the winter months. 

Get clear on vitamin D & sunlight exposure

Supplementing with vitamin D – getting it right Part 1

Supplementing with vitamin D - getting it right Part 2


Norris JM, Lee H et al. Plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration and risk of islet autoimmunity.  Diabetes, October 2017 DOI: 10.2337/db17-0802