Health specialists assert that diabetes is a “global health crisis” because it is an incurable condition that currently affects more than 300 million people. Based on their estimates, the specialists go on to suggest that there will probably be “more than 439 million cases by 2030.”
To get an idea of how many people are presently living with diabetes, imagine a population the size of United States. As for the prediction for the year 2030, that number exceeds the current population of South America.
Due to these staggering numbers, medical professionals have spent many years trying to determine exactly what causes diabetes in order to come up with the best preventative measures and treatments.
In order to understand how vitamin A may be beneficial to diabetics, you first have to do what medical experts are doing, to an extent and understand what diabetes is and how it affects the body.
Representatives of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Health Information Center define diabetes as “a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high.”
Glucose can be thought of as fuel that keeps your body functioning as it should. It is created after you eat. Your body metabolizes or breaks down food into substances, including glucose, that it will mainly use as a source of energy. During this process, carbohydrates, protein, and fat become glucose.
The production of glucose takes place in your pancreas – an organ that nestled between your stomach and large intestines. If you look at a picture of a pancreas, it may remind you of an oddly shaped ear of corn. Nevertheless, the pancreas is a major player among your other organs in that it “helps indigestion” and “regulates blood sugar.” It also “also produces the hormone insulin and secretes it into the bloodstream.”
Insulin can be thought of as a messenger that tells your body to only use as much glucose as it presently needs for fuel and to save the rest so that you don’t completely run out of energy between meals. This balancing act “keeps your blood sugar level from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia)” before and after meals.
If for some reason your body makes too much insulin, not enough of it or doesn’t use as it should, chances are you will develop diabetes and diabetes-related health issues. These insulin issues may be caused by anything from genetics to overeating and pregnancy.
Presently, it is believed that there is a link between obesity and Type 2 diabetes. For example, studies show that Type 2 diabetes, sometimes referred to as “adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent diabetes,” is often caused by a poor diet coupled with a sedentary lifestyle. In other words, relatively inactive people whose eat a lot of simple carbohydrates and fats (e.g., starchy foods, sweets, and fried food) are at risk.
Typically, people who have Type 2 diabetes either cannot “make enough insulin” or create insulin that their bodies “can use properly.” This affects their ability to keep their “blood glucose levels within a normal range.” As a result, some of them “may need diabetes medications or insulin therapy” to prevent a decline in their overall quality of life.
Type 1 diabetes can affect anyone, regardless of his or her weight, age and diet. It is often a genetic issue that “is most commonly diagnosed from infancy to the late 30s.” That fact that it can affect anyone is one of the main differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Arguably, the most significant difference is the fact that this kind of diabetic’s pancreas doesn’t produce insulin at all.
For some yet unknown reason, Type 1 diabetes causes the body’s immune system to view cells within the pancreas that are responsible for creating insulin as “bad” and it destroys them. This, in turn, creates abnormal blood glucose levels. People living with Type 1 diabetes have to use prescription insulin via injections or infusion pumps as a stabilizer. Unfortunately, insulin cannot currently be taken orally.
There are three other forms or types of diabetes that are also regarded as genetic conditions: neonatal diabetes, maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY) and latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (LADA).
While the terms are pretty much self-explanatory, there are some distinctions in how each type of diabetes affects the body.
Neonatal diabetes, for example, can be a temporary issue for some individuals. LADA and MODY, on the other hand, are usually permanent conditions.
LODA can be regarded as a milder form of Type 1 diabetes in that the person’s immune system destroys “insulin-producing cells” at a much slower rate.
MODY is an extremely rare form of diabetes that is gene-specific, meaning “the condition presents differently depending on which gene specifically is affected.” Additionally, some individuals living with MODY may be able to function without relying on prescription insulin or any other medical interventions. This is also true for some individuals living with LODA and gestational diabetes.
Unlike other aforementioned types of diabetes, gestational diabetes is gender-specific. It only affects pregnant women; however, not all pregnant women develop gestational diabetes. Presently, research suggests it only affects “about two to five percent of pregnant women.”
Medical professionals believe the excessive amount of hormones that pregnant women produce may prevent their bodies from responding to insulin, normally. For example, the amount of insulin some pregnant women need may exceed what they needed prior to becoming pregnant by a large degree. The demand for more insulin can put a lot of stress on the pancreas and cause higher than normal blood glucose levels.
The good news is that this spike in blood glucose levels is usually a temporary condition that ends after childbirth. Unfortunately, “women who have had gestational diabetes have a higher risk of eventually developing type 2 diabetes.”
Now that you have a general idea of what diabetes is, let’s have a look at how vitamin A may be able to help people living with diabetes improve their quality of life.
What are the Benefits of Vitamin A for Diabetes?
If you are not very familiar with Vitamin A, you may be wondering what it is and what it does for people in general. Vitamin A is actually “the name of a group of fat-soluble retinoids, including retinol, retinal, and retinyl esters.”
In layman’s terms, Vitamin A is a group of substances found in fruits, vegetables, eggs and some certain meats that help you see this text, for example. It also helps your body eliminate toxins by strengthening your immune system.
Those are just two reasons why Vitamin A is one of the essential vitamins. The following information will help shed some light on how Vitamin A can also be beneficial to people living with diabetes.
Current research has revealed that the cells within the pancreas that are responsible for creating insulin referred to as beta cells “contain a large quantity of a cell surface receptor for vitamin A.”
What does this mean for diabetics? In short, it means that that vitamin A may have a positive effect on beta cells’ production of insulin.
Now let’s look at how health specialists believe this process works. You now know that insulin tells the body how to handle glucose. What you may not know is how cell surface receptors play a role in the creation and distribution of glucose. If so, here’s how. Cell surface receptors are “important proteins that mediate communication between the cell and the outside world.” You can think of cell surface receptors as dispatch operators for the actions of cells within the pancreas.
According to Albert Salehi, senior researcher at the Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden, “insulin cells have a cell surface expressed a receptor for vitamin A.” Based on this discovery, findings, Salehi and his research team go on to suggest that vitamin A not only “plays an important role for the development of beta-cells in the early stages of life, but also for a proper function during the remaining life.”
Various clinical trials have been conducted to study the effect vitamin A may have on diabetics. For example, associates of the National Center for Biotechnology Information assert that “vitamin A deficiency causes hyperglycemia and loss of pancreatic beta cell mass.” They came to this conclusion based on a study involving mice.
The researchers noticed that the mice that were prescribed diets with an inadequate amount of vitamin A produced less insulin and developed hyperglycemia (i.e., too much glucose). The study also revealed a “remodeling of the endocrine pancreas, marked β-cell apoptosis, shifts to smaller islet size distributions, decreased β-cell mass, increased α-cell mass, and hyperglucagonemia.” Hyperglucagonemia is a condition in which the body excretes too much glucagon – a hormone the pancreas makes to assist in the metabolism of glucose. The reintroduction of vitamin A, or an adequate amount of vitamin A, normalized the mice’s ability to produce and excrete insulin.
In short, the aforementioned study revealed that a lack of vitamin A caused the mice’s respective pancreases to malfunction, which created other adverse health conditions.
Granted, human beings were not used in that particular trial. However, the way the mice responded to a lack of vitamin A lead the researchers to believe that an inadequate amount of vitamin A may have a similar or identical effect on people living with diabetes.
Older research concerning diabetics and their respective vitamin A levels have revealed interesting findings. For example, in the early 1900s, various medical experts found that “the occurrence of increased amounts of carotene in the blood of patients with diabetes mellitus.”
Carotene is “any of several orange or red” pigments that give plants, including some vegetables and fruits, their color. Beta-carotenes, on the other hand, are “dark green and dark yellow” pigments that give some fruits and vegetable their color. The body converts both into vitamin A.
More specifically, in 1929 and 1930 researchers found that “in patients with diabetes mellitus and xanthosis, diabetes appeared to be more severe and more difficult to control than in those without hypercarotenemia.” In terms of statistics, the researchers found that “85% of 500 cases of diabetes mellitus studied at that time the carotene values were above normal.”
As you can see, there is still a lot more to learn about vitamin A and its effect on people living with diabetes.
How Do You Use Vitamin A for Diabetes?
As mentioned earlier, vitamin A is an essential vitamin. That means everyone needs it. Some people may think vitamin A is something that can be obtained over the counter like zinc for acne, for example, which is somewhat true. Exactly how much vitamin A doe everyone needs on a daily basis? It depends on a number of factors. However, representatives of the National Institutes of Health offer the following advice:
- Recommended intakes for vitamin A for people aged 14 years and older range between 700 and 900 micrograms (mcg) of retinol activity equivalents (RAE) per day.
- Recommended intakes for women who are nursing range between 1,200 and 1,300 RAE.
- Lower values are recommended for infants and children younger than 14 (“Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin A,” 2013).
Diabetics and people in general who may not be getting enough vitamin A can ensure that they get the recommended amount by using supplements (e.g., multivitamins) and adding foods that have a high amount of vitamin A to their diets. However, it is worth mentioning that you should discuss making changes to your diet with your health care provider beforehand.
Foods rich in vitamin A include but are not limited to, milk, cheese, fish and organ meats, most leafy and brightly colored vegetables and fruits such as apricots and melons. The exact amount of vitamin A in each serving of these foods can often be found by referring to diet and nutrition-oriented websites. Additionally, this information is typically added to the labels of canned, boxed, frozen and packaged foods in general.
In summary, diabetes is still an incurable disease. However, the aforementioned studies suggest that it may become as easy to treat as the common cold via vitamin A and additional research.
Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin A. (2018, March 2). Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/
Harvard Health Publishing. (2016, September 26). The vitamin alphabet: All about A – Harvard Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-vitamin-alphabet-all-about-a
Vitamin A: a missing link in diabetes? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4623591/
Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes – JDRF, the type 1 charity. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://jdrf.org.uk/information-support/about-type-1-diabetes/what-is-the-difference-between-type-1-and-type-2-diabetes/
Type 2 diabetes – Symptoms and causes. (2018, September 15). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20351193
What is Diabetes? | NIDDK. (2016, November 30). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes
Pancreas: Functions and disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/10011.php
What is Insulin? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/type-1-diabetes/what-insulin
Insulin and Glucagon: How Do They Work? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/insulin-and-glucagon#glucose-disorders
The role of vitamin A in diabetes. (2018, September 26). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170613111649.htm
Cell Surface Receptor. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://bpsbioscience.com/cell-surface-receptors
Trasino SE , et al. (n.d.). Vitamin A deficiency causes hyperglycemia and loss of pancreatic β-cell mass. – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25451926
VITAMIN A DEFICIENCY IN DIABETES MELLITUS. (1940, January 1). Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/545353
Definition of CAROTENE. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/carotene