Press Release

Type 1 diabetes: Vitamin D deficiency occurs in an early stage

Neuherberg, 25 February 2014. Low levels of vitamin D are commonly found in people with type 1 diabetes. But even children who have multiple positive islet autoantibodies without manifest type 1 diabetes have lower levels of vitamin D in their blood. This does not appear, however, to influence the progression of the disease from pre-diabetes to diabetes, according to scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Technical University of Munich in the specialist journal Diabetologia.

Type 1 diabetes: Vitamin D deficiency occurs in an early stage

Dr. Christiane Winkler, Jennifer Raab (left to right; source: Helmholtz Zentrum München)

Vitamin D is known as a major regulator of calcium levels and bone metabolism. Furthermore, it also influences the immune system. Previous studies have shown that patients with recently diagnosed type 1 diabetes have significantly lower vitamin D levels. Scientists from the Institute of Diabetes Research (IDF) and the Helmholtz Zentrum München, a member of the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), as well as from the Diabetes Research Group at the Technische Universität München (TUM) examined whether a vitamin D deficiency occurs during an early stage of type 1 diabetes, defined by the presence of multiple diabetes-specific islet autoantibodies. Furthermore they also determined whether vitamin D deficiency influences the progression to type 1 diabetes in children with multiple islet autoantibodies. 

Vitamin D deficiency already exists in prediabetes

Children who had not yet developed clinical type 1 diabetes but who have multiple positive autoantibodies in their blood were found to have lower vitamin D levels than children without diabetes-specific autoantibodies. Interestingly, the differences in vitamin D levels were most prevalent in the summer months. These results were obtained from the BABYDIET, BABYDIAB, TEENDIAB and DIMELLI* diabetes studies. The team of scientists headed by Jennifer Raab, Dr. Christiane Winkler and Professor Anette-Gabriele Ziegler compared the vitamin D measurements taken from 108 children who were tested positive for islet autoantibodies with 406 children without autoantibodies. Lower vitamin D levels were also found in 244 children who had recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Progression of the disease remains unaffected

Prediabetes is defined as the presence of multiple islet autoantibodies. If and when the disease progresses, however, does not seem to be influenced by the vitamin D levels. Within the group of children with positive autoantibodies, a few children quickly developed type 1 diabetes – however this was independent from their vitamin D levels.

Recommendation of vitamin D supplementation at an early stage of type 1 diabetes may be considered 

“Vitamin D deficiency precedes the onset of type 1 diabetes. This may be a consequence of an immune response,” Professor Ziegler says. “In the case of prediabetic children, we must therefore be mindful of the risk of vitamin D deficiency and consider recommending vitamin D supplementation at an early stage of type 1 diabetes.”

Find out more about research in type 1 diabetes at the Helmholtz Zentrum München here:

Further information

* Diabetes studies:

  • BABYDIET: A dietary intervention study of children with an increased type 1 diabetes risk
  • BABYDIAB: prospective study, that examines the causes of type 1 diabetes in childhood.
  • TEENDIAB: prospective study, that examines the causes of type 1 diabetes in puberty.
  • DIMELLI: Diabetes Mellitus Incidence Cohort Registry study of the frequency and characteristics of diabetes phenotypes in Bavaria.

For more information on diabetes studies conducted at the Helmholtz Zentrum München/ Technical University of Munich, please visit: www.diabetes-studien.de

Original publication: 
Raab, J. et al. (2014): Prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in pre-type 1 diabetes and its association with disease progression, Diabetologia, doi: 10.1007/s00125-014-3181-4

Link to specialist publication

As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,200 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 34,000 staff members.

The German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD) brings together experts in the field of diabetes research and interlinks basic research, epidemiology and clinical applications. Members are the German Diabetes Center in Düsseldorf, the German Institute of Human Nutrition (DIfE) in Potsdam-Rehbrücke, Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health, the Paul Langerhans Institutes of the University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus in Dresden and the University of Tübingen, as well as the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Association and the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres. The objective of the DZD is to find answers to open questions in diabetes research by means of a novel, integrative research approach and to make a significant contribution to improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diabetes mellitus.

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Scientific Contact 
Prof. Dr. Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt (GmbH), Institute of Diabetes Research, Ingolstaedter Landstr. 1, D-85764 Neuherberg - Tel. +49 89 3187-3405 -