- a disabling and potentially life-threatening complication
Type 2 diabetes is currently treated with a number of different medical drugs. However, the medicine is not able to deal with the underlying causes of the disease that affects most organ systems. A Chinese study has demonstrated that vitamin D deficiency is linked to diabetic neuropathy, which is an insidious condition and is associated with inflammation, pain, amputation, circulatory failure, and early death.
It is important to get plenty of vitamin D at all times in order to prevent and treat the early phases of diabetic neuropathy.
Type 2 diabetes is spreading like a bushfire. The disease affects most organ systems and causes damage to the heart, the eyes, the kidneys, and the blood vessels. This is a direct cause of impaired quality of life, early death, and massive health costs.
An estimated 60-70 percent of diabetes patients develop diabetic neuropathy. Around 25 percent of patients have burning or stabbing pain that affects their quality of life. Diabetic neuropathy is caused by inflammation in and damage to the nervous system that regulates the cardiovascular function. This damage typically affects the nerves and circulation in the feet and legs, in some cases leading to amputations. It can also affect bladder and bowel function as well as sexual function.
Diabetic neuropathy is an insidious disease that is often overlooked because the symptoms don’t show until the disease is in its late stages. It is associated with an increased risk of morbidity and mortality caused by circulatory failure and other factors.
Earlier studies have shown that a single, very large dose of vitamin D or daily supplementation with 50 micrograms of vitamin D can reduce pain by up to 50 percent. Still, the underlying mechanisms responsible for vitamin D’s pain-relieving effect remain unclear. Therefore, a team of Chinese scientist decided to take a closer look at this, especially because China is currently experiencing the largest increase in diabetes worldwide.
Vitamin D counteracts painful inflammation
A total of 483 diabetes patients were included in the Chinese study and divided into three groups: A group without diabetic neuropathy, a group with diabetic neuropathy but without pain, and finally a group with diabetic neuropathy and pain.
The scientists gathered basic information about the patients and collected blood samples, where they looked at blood levels of vitamin D, various inflammation markers such as CRP (C-reactive protein), interleukin-2 (IL-2), IL-4, IL-6, IL-10, TNF-α (tumor necrosis factor- α), and interferon-y. Their analyses revealed that lack of vitamin D was associated with increased levels of pro-inflammatory markers in patients with painful diabetic neuropathy. The scientists concluded that severe vitamin D deficiency plays a role in the development of painful diabetic neuropathy by increasing levels of the pro-inflammatory markers IL-6 and TNF-α.
The study is published in Frontiers in Nutrition.
Supplements of vitamin D and B12 are relevant for prevention and treatment
Christian Stevns Hansen, a Danish doctor, reported on an earlier occasion that low blood levels of vitamin D and vitamin B12 are linked to an increased risk of diabetic neuropathy. As mentioned, vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties. There is widespread vitamin D deficiency due to factors such as spending too much time indoors, being overweight, and seasonal lack of sunlight during the winter period.
Vitamin B12 is important for the nervous system, energy levels, and blood formation, and type 2 diabetics are at increased risk of lacking the vitamin. This is linked to their use of metformin, a type of diabetes medication that is known to block the uptake of the vitamin.
Diabetic neuropathy in its late stages is irreversible, which means that nothing can be done to slow down the complication. However, in its early stages, the disease is reversible. It is therefore vital to look into potential risk factors and see if the condition can be prevented with diet changes, weight loss, smoking cessation, and various supplements.
Gong Xiaohua et al. Severe Vitamin D Deficiency Is Associated With Increased Expression of Inflammatory Cytokines in Painful Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy. Frontiers in Nutrition. 10 March 2021
Christian Stevns Hansen. Almindelige vitaminer og mineraler er forbundne med alvorlige komplikationer hos diabetes patienter. Formidling af Ph.d. afhandlingen: Exploring new risk markers for diabetic cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy.
Zaid Naeem. Vitamin D Deficiency – An Ignored Epidemic. International Journal of Health Sciences. 2010