Type 2 diabetes affects over 29 million Americans, according to the American Diabetes Association, and accounts for up to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes in the U.S.
Type 2 diabetes develops when insulin-producing cells in the body are unable to produce enough insulin, or when any insulin that is produced, fails to work properly. This is known as insulin resistance.
Although a healthy diet, regular exercise, and medication are often used to treat type 2 diabetes, a new study published by the Journal of Biological Chemistry has found a potential link between vitamin A deficiency and the onset of type 2 diabetes.
The findings are so significant that researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York believe the study may lead to new treatments for diabetes. According to senior author Dr. Lorraine Gudas, vitamin A boosts beta cell activity, meaning that a deficiency may play a key role in a person developing type 2 diabetes.
Vitamin A strengthens immunity against infections and aids in the growth of cells, along with helping maintain and improve vision. Good sources of vitamin A include cheese, eggs, yogurt, and liver. You can also boost your intake by including good sources of beta-carotene in your diet.
Past studies have proven the vitamin is important for beta cell production during fetal development, but Dr. Gudas and her co-researchers wanted to investigate whether the vitamin also played such a key role in adulthood.
In the study, the researchers analyzed the beta cell development among two groups of adult mice. One group had been genetically modified so that the mice were unable to store vitamin A, while the other group was able to store the vitamin through any food ingested.
The researchers found that the group of mice unable to store vitamin A experienced beta cell death, and were therefore unable to produce insulin. In addition, when vitamin A was removed from the diets of healthy mice, it led to significant beta cell loss, resulting in reduced insulin production and increased blood glucose levels — the key factors involved in the development of type 2 diabetes.
Indeed, when the researchers restored vitamin A to the diets of the mice, beta cell production and insulin production increased, and blood glucose levels actually returned to normal. The researchers believe these findings indicate that vitamin A deficiency could be very much be involved in the development of type 2 diabetes.
“How the removal of vitamin A causes the death of the beta cells that make insulin in the pancreas is an important question we want to answer.
“These beta cells in the pancreas are exquisitely sensitive to the dietary removal of vitamin A. No one has found that before. Our study sets the platform to take these studies further into pre-clinical and clinical settings.”
The study will undoubtedly lead to further research, and the findings offer real hope that administering patients a synthetic form of vitamin A could potentially reverse type 2 diabetes.