It may be time to add more foods rich in vitamin A such as sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, butternut squash and dark leafy greens to your diet. A recent study indicates that vitamin A deficiency could be behind type 2 diabetes.
The most common form of diabetes in the USA, type 2, accounts for 90-95% of all diagnosed cases and is characterized by insulin resistance, in which insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are unable to function effectively.
According to senior author of the study, Dr. Lorraine Gudas, vitamin A is responsible for boosting beta cell activity. This means that poor vitamin A levels may be a potential driver in the development of type 2 diabetes. Vitamin A is responsible for aiding cell growth and contributing to a healthy immune system and vision.
The two types of vitamin A are: Preformed vitamin A, referred to as retinol, which is present in meat, poultry, fish and dairy products and Pro-vitamin A, or beta-carotene, which is found in many fruits and vegetables.
Past studies have shown that, during fetal development, vitamin A is key for beta cell production. But Dr. Gudas and colleagues say it was unclear as to whether vitamin A played such a role in adulthood.
Dietary vitamin A removal and beta cell loss in adult mice
To find out, the team analyzed the beta cell development among two groups of adult mice; one group of mice had been genetically modified to be unable to store dietary vitamin A, while the other group was able to store the vitamin from foods as normal.
The researchers found that the mice unable to store vitamin A suffered beta cell death, which means these mice were unable to produce insulin.
More importantly, when the researchers removed vitamin A from the diets of healthy mice, they found this led to significant beta cell loss, resulting in reduced insulin production and increased blood glucose levels – key factors involved in development of type 2 diabetes. However, when vitamin A was added back to the rodents’ diets, beta cell production rose, insulin production increased and blood glucose levels returned to normal.
The researchers indicate that their findings suggest that Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) may be involved in the development of type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Gudas says: “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 preclinical and clinical settings.”
The team says their findings also suggest a synthetic form of vitamin A may have the potential to reverse type 2 diabetes – something that will be addressed in future research.
In November 2014, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting verapamil – a common drug used to treat high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and migraine headaches – has the potential to reverse diabetes.
Steven E. Trasino, Yannick D. Benoit and Lorraine J. Gudas. Vitamin A Deficiency Causes Hyperglycemia and Loss of Pancreatic β-Cell Mass. First Published on December 1, 2014, doi: 10.1074/jbc.M114.616763 jbc.M114.616763. For full pdf version: http://www.jbc.org/content/early/2014/12/01/jbc.M114.616763.full.pdf+html