Vitamin D for Diabetic Arteries?

Diabetes patients with low vitamin D may have higher risk of atherosclerosis

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Heart disease is a common complication of diabetes. Vitamin D may play a role in the development of clogged arteries, which can lead to heart disease.

In a recent study, diabetes patients with low levels of vitamin D also had a higher risk of clogged arteries.

Specifically, these researchers found that when vitamin D levels were low, a certain type of blood cell was more likely to stick to the walls of blood vessels.

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"About 26 million Americans now have type 2 diabetes," said Carlos Bernal-Mizrachi, MD, of Washington University in St. Louis and principal investigator of the study.

"And as obesity rates rise, we expect even more people will develop diabetes. Those patients are more likely to experience heart problems due to an increase in vascular inflammation, so we have been investigating why this occurs," he said.

In their previous research, Dr. Bernal-Mizrachi and colleagues found that vitamin D levels play a part in heart disease.

Results from the study showed that diabetes patients with low vitamin D had white blood cells - called macrophages - that were more likely to stick to the walls of blood vessels. When these macrophages are no longer circulating, they can trigger cells to become loaded with cholesterol - a substance that can cause the blood vessels to harden and block blood flow.

"We took everything into account" said Amy E. Riek, MD, of also of Washington University and first author of the study.

"We looked at blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes control, body weight and race. But only vitamin D levels correlated to whether these cells stuck to the blood vessel wall," she said.

While these findings suggest a link between low vitamin D and clogged arteries in patients with diabetes, the study does not show that low vitamin D actually causes clogged arteries - a condition also known as atherosclerosis.

In addition, it is not clear whether giving vitamin D to diabetes with diabetes would protect against the risk of clog arteries. For this reason, Dr. Bernal-Mizrachi, Dr. Riek and their colleagues are studying the use of vitamin D supplementation in people with type 2 diabetes.

"In the future, we hope to generate medications, potentially even vitamin D itself, that help prevent the deposit of cholesterol in the blood vessels," said Dr. Bernal-Mizrachi.

"Our ultimate goal is to intervene in people with diabetes and to see whether vitamin D might decrease inflammation, reduce blood pressure and lessen the likelihood that they will develop atherosclerosis or other vascular complications," he said.

The study included 43 patients with type 2 diabetes and 25 people without diabetes but who were similar in age, sex and body weight.

The research was supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development among a number of other organizations, including the American Diabetes Association and the Endocrine Society.

The study was published November 9 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 14, 2012
Last Updated:
November 15, 2012