People with diabetes are prone to clogged arteries, which can lead to heart disease. Insufficient levels of vitamin D may be responsible for this cholesterol-overload in cells that results in the stiffening of blood vessels and inhibited blood flow, according to new research at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.
In a study published November 9 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers revealed people with diabetes who get adequate vitamin D are less likely to suffer from clogged blood vessels, a condition called atherosclerosis. Low levels of vitamin D, however, triggers immune cells to bind to blood vessels near the heart that then trap cholesterol, thus causing vascular inflammation.
“We took everything into account,” says first author Amy E. Riek, MD, instructor in medicine. “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.”
So far, scientists are unclear whether giving vitamin D to people with diabetes will actually reverse their risk of developing atherosclerosis. They are currently treating mice with vitamin D as well as conducting two clinical trials in patients—one of which tests whether people with diabetes and hypertension will benefit from vitamin D. The second study is specific to African Americans and measures if taking vitamin D supplements will slow or reverse the progression of heart disease.
“In the future, we hope to generate medications, potentially even vitamin D itself, that help prevent the deposit of cholesterol in the blood vessels,” Bernal-Mizrachi explains.