Lack of vitamin A may trigger diabetes

New research suggests vitamin A plays a critical role in mechanisms that lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Vitamin A may play a key role in determining whether or not someone develops type 2 diabetes, according to new research. New work from Weill Cornell Medical College suggests a lack of the vitamin may trigger mechanisms that lead to the onset of the disease. Ninety percent of the people around the world who suffer from diabetes have type 2 diabetes, according to the World Health Organization.

Vitamin A helps the pancreas produce beta cells, that make the hormone insulin, that regulates blood sugar. The researchers found that when they removed vitamin A from mice’s diet, the rodents experienced a massive loss of beta cells, according to a university release about the research. As a result, the rodents’ experienced a big decrease in insulin and a big increase in blood glucose. When they added the A back into their diet, the mice’s beta cells stabilized, insulin production kicked back up and blood glucose returned to normal levels. The research was published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Researchers are keen to figure out ways to preserve or replenish the critical beta cells that people with diabetes lose. “From a therapeutic point of view, our research is a very important contribution because there are no drugs available to do this,” said the study’s first author Dr. Steven Trasino, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Pharmacology.

"While there are thousands of publications on diabetes, there hasn’t been much research on the effects of removing vitamin A from the diets of animals, acting as a model for human disease," senior author Dr. Lorraine Gudas, chairman of the Department of Pharmacology and the Revlon Pharmaceutical Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology at Weill Cornell, said in the release. "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."

Last year, German research linked a deficiency of vitamin D to the onset of type 1 diabetes.

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