More than 27 million people in the United States are living with type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the population ages and a growing percentage of people become overweight or obese, that number will grow.
A recent study, published in the journal Cell, revealed that an unlikely hero, vitamin D, may slow the onset of diabetes by protecting the beta cells. Beta cells, found in the pancreas, manufacture and release insulin, the hormone essential for controlling glucose levels in the blood.
If the beta cells produce too little insulin, according to Medical News Today, glucose can accumulate in the blood at levels that are toxic to cells reaching potentially lethal proportions.
Researchers from the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, found that by boosting receptors in vitamin D they were able to treat damaged beta cells in mice. They used a compound called iBRD9 to boost the activity of vitamin D receptors which had a protective effect on the beta cells and brought down the glucose levels to within a normal range.
Study author Zong Wei explained that that researchers have known about a correlation between high vitamin D concentration in the blood and reduced risk of diabetes but didn’t know the mechanism of how this worked.
“We know that diabetes is a disease caused by inflammation,” explains senior author Ronald Evans. “In this study, we identified the vitamin D receptor as an important modulator of both inflammation and beta cell survival.”
By adding 1BRD9 to the vitamin D, scientists could super charge genes to trigger an anti-inflammatory effect and protect the beta cells to survive even under stressful conditions.
The discovery can have far-reaching implications, say researchers.
Study co-author Ruth Yu says: “Because this is an important receptor it could be potentially be universal for any treatments where you need to boost the effect of vitamin D. For example, we are especially interested in looking at using this technique for treatment of pancreatic cancer.”
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