- Too big too fast. The "accelerator hypothesis" theorizes that children who are bigger and grow more quickly are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes.
- Too little sun. The "sunshine hypothesis" comes from data showing that countries situated closer to the equator have lower rates of type 1 diabetes.
- Too clean. The "hygiene hypothesis" is the notion that cleanliness -- lack of exposure to certain germs and parasites -- may increase susceptibility to diseases like diabetes.
- Too much cow's milk. The "cow's milk hypothesis" states that exposing babies to infant formula containing cow's milk in the first six months of life damages their immune systems, and can trigger autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes.
- Too much pollution. The "POP hypothesis" alleges that being exposed to pollutants increases diabetes risk.
Unlike type 2 diabetes, which is caused by insulin resistance and faulty leptin signaling due to inappropriate diet and lack of exercise, people with type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin and must therefore inject insulin several times a day if they are to remain alive.
Tragically those with type 1 diabetes can have the healthiest lifestyle possible yet still suffer many diseases, as current technology is a poor substitute for a fully functioning pancreas.
Type 1 diabetes is actually an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system destroys pancreatic cells that produce insulin. The disease tends to progress rather quickly and therefore needs to be diagnosed early, as it can result in serious long-term complications including blindness, kidney failure, heart disease and stroke.
While type 1 diabetes is far less common than type 2, accounting for only 5-10 percent of people with diabetes, it is steadily on the rise. Rates of type 1 diabetes in children under 5 are expected to double between 2005 and 2020, and cases among children younger than 15 are expected to rise by 70 percent during this time, a Lancet study showed.
What is fueling this rise is the question on everyone’s mind, and the research is pointing to one very prominent, and easily fixable, problem: vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D May Prevent Type 1 Diabetes
It has been known for some time that type one diabetes is virtually unheard of the closer one gets to the equator. This spurred research which suggested that if a pregnant woman has optimal vitamin D levels during her pregnancy she should radically reduce if not virtually eliminate the child’s risk of getting type 1 diabetes!
Receptors that respond to vitamin D have been found in nearly every type of human cell, from your bones to your brain, and also your pancreas.
According to Dr. Michael Holick, who is one of the leading vitamin D researchers in the world, children receiving vitamin D supplementation from age 1 on had an 80 percent decreased risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
New Research Confirms Pregnant Women Seriously at Risk of Vitamin D Deficiency
This is crucial information for any woman who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant, as a separate study by Drs. Hollis and Wagner found that over 87 percent of all newborns and over 67 percent of all mothers had vitamin D levels lower than 20 ng/ml, which is a severe deficiency state. As a result, they recommended that all mothers optimize their vitamin D levels during pregnancy, especially in the winter months, to safeguard their babies' health.
To do so, pregnant women may need to consume 10 times as much food-based vitamin D than is currently recommended, a new study by Dr. Hollis and colleagues confirmed.
Currently, guidelines recommend pregnant women consume from 200 IU to 400 IU of vitamin D a day, an amount that is far too low.
In the new study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Vancouver, B.C., women who were at least 12 weeks pregnant took 400, 2,000 or 4,000 IU of vitamin D a day.
Those who took the highest amount -- 4,000 IU a day -- were the least likely to go into labor early, give birth prematurely or develop infections.
Unfortunately, according to a separate new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 97 percent of African Americans have vitamin D levels that are too low for optimal health, along with 90 percent of Mexican Americans and 71 percent of whites.
These are staggering numbers that could increase your newborn’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes!
Also, if you are the parent of an infant, it is crucial that you test their vitamin D levels and use safe sun exposure and supplementation as necessary to increase their levels. Doing so now could potentially save them the lifelong pain of developing type 1 diabetes.
What Should Your Child’s Vitamin D Levels Be?
From my perspective, with the mountain of scientific evidence we now have on the benefits of optimal vitamin D levels in pregnancy it is reprehensible criminal malpractice to not routinely check a pregnant woman’s vitamin D level during the pregnancy.
Of course, it is still not the “standard of care” at this point and no physician will lose his license for failing to do this check, but you don’t have to wait for the “standard of care” to catch up to reality. Encourage every pregnant woman you know monitor her vitamin D level during her pregnancy.
Based on the most recent research, the current recommendation for dosage via oral supplementation is 35 IU’s of vitamin D per pound of body weight, as shown in the chart below.
Vitamin D Dose Recommendations Age Dosage Below 5 35 units per pound per day Age 5 - 10 2500 units Age 18 - 30 5000 units Pregnant Women 5000 units WARNING:
There is no way to know if the above recommendations are correct. The ONLY way to know is to test your blood. You might need 4-5 times the amount recommended above. Ideally your blood level of 25 OH D should be 65 ng/ml.
Keep in mind that these recommendations are only an estimate, as it is simply impossible to make a blanket recommendation that will cover everyone’s needs.
The only way to determine the correct dose is to get your blood tested since there are so many variables that influence your vitamin D status.
Getting the correct test is the first step in this process, as there are TWO vitamin D tests currently being offered: 1,25(OH)D and 25(OH)D.
The correct test your doctor needs to order is 25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D, which is the better marker of overall D status. This is the marker that is most strongly associated with overall health.
I recommend using Lab Corp in the U.S. When you get your results back, the “normal” 25-hydroxyvitamin D lab range is between 20-56 ng/ml. As you can see in the chart below, this conventional range is really a sign of deficiency, and is too broad to be ideal.
In fact, your or your child’s vitamin D level should not be below 32 ng/ml, and any levels below 20 ng/ml are considered serious deficiency states, increasing your risk of cancer and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, just to name a few.
The OPTIMAL value that you’re looking for is 50-70 ng/ml.
This range applies for everyone: children, adolescents, adults and seniors.
For more information on optimizing your vitamin D levels, please watch my free one-hour vitamin D lecture.
What Else Can You do to Help Prevent Type 1 Diabetes?
There are a number of other factors that may also contribute to type 1 diabetes. To keep your, and your children’s, risks as low as possible, try the following steps.
- Breastfeed your baby: Bottle-fed babies tend to grow faster, and this is not a positive result. Instead, babies that gain a lot of weight in their first year of life may have an increased risk of type 1 diabetes.
The second reason why breastfeeding is preferred is because you will not have to expose your child to pasteurized milk-based formula. Exposure to pasteurized cow’s milk early in life may also increase your child’s risk of type 1 diabetes.
- Avoid feeding your infant cereal: Cereal is often one of the first solid foods to be introduced into the infant diet and most pediatricians encourage their patients to start these foods at about 4 to 6 months of age. This is truly unfortunate, as grains are not a healthy choice for most people, including infants, and infants fed cereal also have an increased risk of type 1 diabetes.
Infants will do just fine starting out on a vegetable source of carbs, so do your child a favor and give them veggies rather than cereal.
- Do your homework before vaccinating: There is speculation that the growing number of autoimmune diseases plaguing children may be related to the growing number of vaccinations they receive. There has been a 17-fold increase in type 1 diabetes, from 1 in 7,100 children in the 1950s to 1 in 400 now, according to Donald W. Miller, Jr., MD, which correlates with a rise in vaccines.
Is There a Cure for Type 1 Diabetes?
As it stands, seeking to prevent type 1 diabetes is currently your best option, and I cannot stress enough the importance of optimizing your vitamin D levels, especially during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
That said, there is encouraging research involving the use of stem cells to replace pancreatic islet cells and thereby cure type 1 diabetes.
In 2007 the British Times Online reported on the first clinical evidence for the efficacy of Hematopoietic stem cells (stem cells derived from bone marrow) in type 1 diabetes.
The Brazilian study, published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that treatment-related toxicity was low, with zero mortality. All but two of the volunteers (93 percent) in the trial did not require daily insulin injections for up to three years after the end of their treatment, as the therapy allowed their bodies to start producing the hormone again naturally.
The main drawback with the particular therapy used in that study, from my standpoint, is that drugs were used to first suppress the patients’ immune system before receiving transfusions of stem cells drawn from their own blood.
Suppression of your immune system could lead to all types of health problems -- after all, your immune system is your primary line of defense -- however, the theory of using stem cells to reactivate natural insulin production is an intriguing and hopeful one and I remain highly optimistic that it will one day soon provide an effective treatment option for type 1 diabetics.
The technique has not yet reached the mainstream, as there is little incentive for drug companies to sponsor research into such therapies that may free their current “customers” from insulin, but it’s not completely out of the question yet.
In an accompanying editorial in JAMA titled “Cellular therapy for type 1 diabetes: has the time come?”, Dr Jay Skyler of the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami, wrote:
“Research in this field is likely to explode in the next few years and should include randomized controlled trials, as well as mechanistic studies."
Again, for now please use prevention as your primary route of attack against type 1 diabetes. For those of you who already have it, stay tuned to the newsletter, as I’ll be reporting on any new information that comes up.