Diabetes Complications, Diabetes Medication

Vitamin D May Help Prevent Diabetic Retinopathy

If you have a low level of vitamin D, taking this inexpensive supplement may help you prevent diabetic retinopathy, one of the most serious complications of diabetes. This is the most common reason why some people with diabetes lose their vision.

A meta-analysis just presented at the Annual Scientific and Clinical Congress of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, in Orlando, Florida, from May 25 to 29, found “a statistically significant association between diabetic retinopathy and vitamin D deficiency.” Three researchers presented their findings in an abstract, “The Relationship Between Vitamin D Deficiency and Diabetic Retinopathy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” The Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology is expected to publish the full report soon, one of the study’s authors told me.

The role of vitamin D in the origin and development of diabetic retinopathy is still an area of debate, says one of the researchers, Dr. Anawin Sanguankeo of Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, New York. The co-authors are Jason Zhang of Yale University and Sikarin Upala of Bassett Medical Center. But, as Dr. Sanguankeo continued, the  connection between vitamin D deficiency and diabetic retinopathy suggests that people who low vitamin D levels should be screened for diabetic retinopathy.

The optimal level

These three researchers analyzed data from 13 studies involving 9,350 people with diabetes who had been tested for both diabetic retinopathy and vitamin D deficiency, which is as a serum level less than 20 ng/ml. They defined the optimal vitamin D level as greater than 30 ng/ml. Having an optimal level of 30 ng/ml is consistent with the latest evidence that we don’t need the higher levels that had previously been recommended, as I wrote in A Vitamin D Surprise for People with Diabetes.

The new meta-analysis concluded that elderly women in particular might look into taking a vitamin D supplement to protect against the development and progression of diabetic retinopathy. “Elderly women have high risk of having vitamin D deficiency base on the epidemiology and physiology,” Dr. Upala wrote me. Women over 70 have the lowest average level of vitamin D of all age-gender groups in the U.S. population, according to the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Not only older women but also people with diabetes in general often have low levels of vitamin D.

Many benefits

Vitamin D is so important for those of us who have diabetes that I have already written 11 articles about it here. It might also help prevent anything from heart disease and cancer to the pain of neuropathy.

Knowing your serum level of vitamin D is important. If you can’t get your doctor to prescribe a vitamin D test at a reasonable cost, you can get one from GrassrootsHealth, as I recommend in Vitamin D Testing. Now, those of us who have diabetes have an another important reason to make sure that we have the right level of vitamin D.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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